Matthew Renda
Bonanza News Service

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January 13, 2012
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Dry Sierra winter so far elicits fears, but has positive impacts

NEVADA COUNTY, Calif. — Even forecasters have joined skiers, farmers and water purveyors in begging for precipitation to hit Northern California.

When casually asked how he was doing at the beginning of a telephone interview, National Weather Service, Sacramento Forecaster Johnie Powell said:

“I could use a little rain.”

The last time it rained in the eastern Nevada County was Dec. 15, and the area accumulated about .14 inches during the last month of the year.

While dry Decembers are not all that unusual, the rain-free weather has persisted into January.

“The high pressure system builds up over Northern California like a bubble and deflects storms north toward the Pacific Northwest, which is why that region is so wet,” Powell said.

A permanent high pressure system is common for summer months, which is what keeps the region dry and sunny. However, the high pressure system is typically replaced by lower pressure systems in the winter, a phenomenon which has been slow to arrive this winter, Powell said.

“The high pressure bubble has been receding,” he said.

Thus, forecasters are predicting rain appearing at the end of the forecast period, meaning next Wednesday.

“There is a chance of rain, but it is not necessarily a big storm,” Powell said. “When we are three to four days out, we'll have a better idea regarding precipitation levels.”

Nevada County Consolidated Fire District Chief Tim Fike said the dry conditions in forested areas are dangerous and extremely abnormal.

“I have been here for 30 years and I've never seen anything like this,” he said. “The moisture levels in living or dead plant material are critically low. Presently, we are seeing conditions in the forest consistent with mid-summer.”

Fike cautioned residents to be wary of windy days.

“Any winds that occur between now and then allow an open fire an opportunity to get away,” he said.

Thanks to a lack of snow, Nevada County Principal Civil Engineer Steve Castleberry said the county Public Works department is not expending enormous dollars in plowing efforts like they were last year.

“Last year, we spent money on overtime for our employees and materials such as sand,” he said. “This year our costs are under budget.”

Castleberry said the department has been able to address many smaller projects that otherwise could not have been managed if there were snow on the ground.

“The weather has allowed us to get caught up,” he said.

The Associated Press is also reporting some families are happy that energy bills are not as high as last year, when constantly running furnaces busted the budgets of many families.

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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Jan 13, 2012 12:14PM Published Jan 13, 2012 12:12PM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.