More California rains threaten Rose Parade, but cheer farmers

Another storm moved through California Wednesday after nearly a week of record rain saturated the state. Sierra Nevada snowpack critical to spring agriculture is at double its normal size.

San Marcos Creek floods Bent Ave in San Marcos, Calif., last week.
Damian Dovarganes/AP
A volunteer works on Rotary International's entry in the 122nd Tournament of Roses Parade to be held January 1 in Pasadena, Calif.

Like many southern Californians at the moment, Mildred Filbert is conflicted about all the rain the region has gotten.

“It’s good news, it’s bad news and it’s 'Que sera, sera' news,” says the school teacher on break, buying a latte at a Sherman Oaks coffee shop. Five other patrons are staring up at black clouds beneath silver ones as a slight mist sprays the window.

The big question forecasters are asking is whether it will rain on Pasadena’s iconic Rose Parade this Saturday and, less critically, the football game between Texas Christian University and Wisconsin. One and a quarter inches are forecast by Friday on top of record rains – the wettest December since 1889 – here all last week. The Weather Channel says it will be partly cloudy New Year's Day following a partly sunny Friday.

In Pictures: California's big storms

For the moment, local and national news is peppered with isolated stories of residents sandbagging houses and comparing mudslide stories. Some communities near the burned-out Station Fire area of August, 2009 in La Canada/Flintridge and La Crescenta are scrambling with debris flows that have inundated driveways and backyards, and even run into some houses. But for the moment at least, large-scale catastrophes predicted by some have been averted.

Saturated turf is causing trees to fall, however, crashing into cars and homes, and officials are warning of more treefalls to come.

Several officials are highlighting what they are calling the great news about all the rain – that the Sierra mountain snowpack critical to next spring’s agriculture is at twice the normal size for this time of year.

“This is sweet,” Jet Propulsion Laboratory climatologist Bill Patzert, told the L.A. Daily News. “Our three biggest months (for rain) are January, February, and March. If they look like December, the people who talk about drought will not have much credibility.” California’s Central Valley, fed by the Sierra snowpack, is responsible for half the nation’s fruits and vegetables.

Southern California’s Department of Water and Power says it’s way too early to talk about easing conservation rules, such as the city’s “odd-even” ordinance that restricts lawn-sprinkler use based on specific days and the last digits of home addresses.

Mr. Patzert says the December dousing could prove to be an anomaly like the month of January 2007, which was followed by three extremely dry months.

“One year is not going to be a drought buster,” he says. “We’ve got to learn to live with less water.”

Still, the signs are good.

Two major lakes, Pyramid and Castaic are 98 percent and 90 percent full, respectively. Reservoirs in northern California, critical to the State Water Project are near average for this time of year and Diamond Valley Lake, outside Hemet, critical to Orange, Riverside and San Diego Counties is now the highest its been since January 2008 -- more than 75 percent full.

“This boosts our hopes that we will have an adequate water supply for our cities and farms s we continue to shake off the effects of the 2007-2009 drought,” said Mark Cowin, director of the Department of Water Resources, in a statement.

The National Weather Service is expecting another large storm Saturday but says it will likely be well after the Rose Parade. There is only a 15 percent chance of precipitation during the parade, known for its strict rules that all surfaces must be covered by live, or once-live substances that include flowers, seeds and moss, says Bonnie Bartling, an NWS specialist, based in Oxnard.

“The overwhelming odds are that it won’t rain on the Rose Parade,” says Ms. Filbert. Finishing her latte, she notes that according to Rose Parade records it has rained only 9 times since the parade began in 1890.

“But I’m keeping my fingers crossed just the same,” she says.

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