WEATHER WATCH: It wasn’t a White Christmas in Three Rivers but it could be a White New Year. There are storms aimed this way and the temperatures might just plunge enough to freeze the precipitation into the shape of snowflakes. Be sure to slow down when driving and take care on slippery roadways, especially on bridges and the perpetually shady stretches. And everyone should watch out for water-soaked branches that could break off from drought-stressed oaks.
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When is the last time the local weather forecast had 13 of the next 15 days showing at least a chance for rain and snow? That’s what Kaweah Country forecasters are calling for starting on New Year’s Eve. Even some precipitation on the majority of those days would get 2017 off to a great water start.
January and February are typically the best months for the wet stuff to fall locally. Especially those colder storms are like deposits in the water bank.
The snow is currently piling up at the higher elevations and, although winter enthusiasts want more low snow, there is actually two feet of snow compressing at 7,000 feet with more expected to be on the way.
That snowpack will pay dividends when warmer temperatures, hopefully in May and June, begin to melt the pack and it comes down the Kaweah drainage. Commercial whitewater rafters like Frank Root, who was among the first licensees after Tulare County passed its rafting ordinance two decades ago, said typically the snow at 7,000 feet melts too soon.
“We don’t ride down here on the low snow,” Root said. “It’s the high elevation snow that melts gradually and can sustain the season for several weeks.”
Snow and the chance of more snow is fueling the local roadside businesses in Three Rivers much like it did during the latter days of 2015. It’s a state law that motorists traveling in the California mountains must carry tire chains.
Designated chain-up areas are there so that motorists can safely pull off the roadway to install chains as needed. Park rangers are there to make certain that motorists do just that and they will check to see that each vehicle is properly equipped.
Year to date— The last significant storm of 2016 occurred December 23 to 24 and dumped 1.72 inches of rainfall to 1,000 feet elevation. Three Rivers will close out 2016 with slightly less than nine inches for the season — that total could be revised depending on what happens during the evening of Dec. 31.
Some remote snow-sensor stations like Farewell Gap at 9,500 feet in the Mineral King area are reporting nearly three feet on the ground. That’s represents about 12 inches of water content or about 35 percent of the April 1 average.
Those water stats mean the high country is off to a good start in the context of these recurring years of drought but much more is needed for any semblance of normal. Giant Forest, at 6,500 feet, has only about a foot of snow on the ground. That represents 16 percent of the April 1 average.
Lake Kaweah is currently in a release mode. Target release for the next 10 days will be a steady 900 cfs (outflow). The current storage as of Thursday, Dec. 29, is 24,831 acre feet, just 600 acre feet higher than one week ago.
Mean inflow from the Kaweah drainage is 167 cfs but that should increase during the next round of storms. Periods of heavy rain could cause small stream flooding, rockslides, and more downed trees.