After a dry October and a nearly parched November, the storm door swung open Thanksgiving Day and allowed a series of frigid Gulf of Alaska low-pressure systems and associated cold fronts to produce rain and snow throughout California all the way through early January.
By the end of December, the rain season, which runs from July 1, 2019, through June 30, 2020, precipitation was slightly below average along the beaches and coastal valleys, while the inland areas were above normal.
By mid-January, the Eastern Pacific high become anchored off California and blocked incoming storms from reaching the Central Coast.
Most meteorologists thought it was the typical mid-winter dry spell, which historically lasts for a few weeks, even during the wettest years.
As a mostly dry January turned into a wholly parched February, the heart of our rainfall season, many started to worry. In fact, rainfall dropped to about a third of the average.
The lack of moisture in February drove most of California into the D0 abnormally dry to D1 moderate drought category, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
Much of San Luis Obispo and all of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties are now listed at the D1 moderate drought level as of March 10.
However, earlier this month, the Eastern Pacific high shifted into the Gulf of Alaska, which opened the storm door to the Central Coast once again, and our weather pattern changed drastically.
An intense and cold upper-level low-pressure system — 530 decameters — will slowly drift southward down the coast of California on Sunday through Wednesday.
The system will bring gusty southerly winds, widespread rain, heavy mountain snow and seasonally cold temperatures throughout the Central Coast. High temperatures will struggle to climb into the upper 50s this week.
Total rainfall amounts from Sunday into Wednesday will range between 2 and 4 inches. Snow elevations are expected to drop to around 2,500 to 3,000 feet, with moderate to heavy snowfall over portions of the Sierra Nevada and Tehachapi Mountains.
The long-range models indicated a brief break in the wet weather around Thursday as that upper-level low-pressure system finally moves away from our region.
Nevertheless, another wet weather system is favored to impact most of California later on Friday into the weekend, potentially bringing another round of widespread and heavy precipitation.
Typically, we receive about 2.6 inches of rain in Santa Maria, 3.2 inches in San Luis Obispo and 2.5 inches in Paso Robles during March.
This March, we could see rainfall totals triple those averages, bringing our seasonal rainfall totals to slightly below normal.
This isn’t the first time the “Ides of March” has saved our rainfall season, as evidenced by our Miracle March in 1991 and the floods of 1995.
Miracle March of 1991 followed five years of below-normal rainfall throughout our state. California’s lakes and massive reservoirs were nearly empty.
The high-pressure ridge over California shifted, allowing the storm track to move over the state.
The skies opened that March, and a pair of storms dropped more than 2 inches of rain during the first week, more rain than almost anyone could hope for. Creeks that were bone-dry at the end of February started flowing again.
Storms kept marching through the Central Coast, and by mid-March the hills finally turned green and California poppies began to bloom.
An article by Larry Mauter said Rachel Parker, who lived near Morro Creek, was probably the one who coined the phrase “miracle rains” as she watched her steer munch grass growing with the late-season storms.
Her bovine had been subsisting on a flake of hay a day. To put that into perspective for you nonranching types like me, bales of hay naturally separate into layers called “flakes,” although their thickness may vary.
Depending on the type of hay, water content, and other factors, a flake usually weighs about 2 to 3 pounds but could range as high as 5 pounds.
The number of flakes beef cattle need per day varies depending upon an individual animal’s weight as well as how much water and salt and what other food sources are available.
But some experienced ranchers say if there’s no grass for grazing, a 1,100-pound steer would need about 22 pounds of hay per day, or anywhere from 4½ to 11 flakes.
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