For Kaweah Country, if there is not another drop of rain this season, 2016-2017 is looking a lot like the last wet season: 2010-2011. Six years ago at the end of March, Three Rivers had recorded 30.21 inches of rainfall; one April 7-8, 2011, storm dumped another two inches of rain and it snowed at 1,500 feet. Following a freak June downpour, 2010-2011 ended with 32.05 inches.
This year is a remarkably similar rainfall story for Kaweah Country. As of March 23, Three Rivers has recorded 29.35 inches. The difference is this year a pattern similar to last month is forming so the current season’s final tally is still unknown.
What is known is that none of the previous storms have been destructive by California’s wet-season standards. Most of the flooding, mudslides, and infrastructure problems have occurred due to frequent but moderate storm events.
The most tragic lesson learned to date is that these wet years have exposed parts of the state’s aging infrastructure that is literally teetering on the brink of disaster. One more warm atmospheric river could have made quite an impact in the damage annals of California flood history.
But a warm and dry March (there have been only three days with measurable local rainfall) gave all of California a chance to dry out.
The April showers in the forecast, like the January-February events, contain heavier precipitation for Northern California. Again, Kaweah Country is located near the boundary of wetter or drier so climatologists can only hazard a guess as to precipitation amounts.
Snowpack in the Sierra Nevada remains well above the average and is also the highest since 2010-2011. What is different than previous packs is that water content is lagging dramatically from the precipitation totals.
For example, water content in the Northern Sierra is 145 percent of average; it’s 202 percent of normal for overall precipitation. In the Southern Sierra, to a lesser degree, the same proportions exist.
The effect is most pronounced at 6,000 to 8,000 feet. While this winter has been colder than the record warm ones of drought years, only the high elevations have retained the water content that used to be typical for places like Giant Forest and Mineral King.
Proving that the weather pays absolutely no attention to the calendar, the onset of spring on Monday, March 20, marked the end of temperatures in the 80s, replacing them with chilly days and intermittent rain. The precipitation, heavy at times and accompanied by some thunder, lightning, and spectacular rainbows, will continue at times into next week.
In the mountains, several inches of new snow fell at 7,000 feet elevation. Roads are slick and icy; chains will be required to be in the vehicle through the weekend.