It was the fizzled drizzle. The little storm that couldn't. Or wouldn't.

A howling storm that forecasters said would drop up to an inch of much-needed rain on the South Bay actually delivered more wind than wet when it slithered out of town by midday Wednesday, leaving a cotton patch of clouds and little hint of the gully-washer to come.

Now we turn our faces to the skies and await Friday morning, when another storm could bring up to an inch of rain to San Jose. No fooling this time, according to meteorologist Jan Null of Golden Gate Weather Services.

Following Wednesday's disappointment, the city was still parched after getting only 0.16 of an inch during what turned out to be a dud downpour. That piddling puddle left San Jose slightly ahead of last year's drought-level total, with just 59 percent of normal rainfall. "This one ended up going through fairly quickly, which is why the rainfall amounts were fairly minimal," Null said. "I think we'll be looking at more significant amounts of precipitation with the next storm because it's much broader in width."

Friday's coming event is barreling down from the Gulf of Alaska, a more typical track for a winter storm than the Wednesday wipeout, which rode an "atmospheric river" from the southwest. "These are the types of storms that leave San Jose out of the mix," Null said. "They produce a lot of rain up in the Santa Cruz Mountains, but descending air warms up and dries out when it flows into the Santa Clara Valley."


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All over the Bay Area the rain totals were built up quickly and then the downpours slowed and stopped suddenly. In many areas afternoon sunny skies made it seem as if no storm had occurred at all. Totals were a varied scattering: San Francisco: 0.31 inches; downtown Oakland: 0.23 inches; Berkeley: 0.33 inches, Richmond: 0.68 inches; Livermore: 0.43 inches; Concord airport: 0.24 inches.

In Santa Cruz County the weather forced Highway 17 to close completely for a while, and the backed-up afternoon rush-hour traffic was nightmarish. There were also downed trees. "We heard there were some power outages in mountain communities," Ben Benjamin of the National Weather Service said about the storm that came in from the west. He said mountain communities absorbed more rain than others lower down. Ben Lomond, for example, got 1.13 inches while downtown Santa Cruz saw only 0.39 inches and Watsonville caught 0.46.

But assuming the next storm inaugurates what one hyperventilating TV anchorman predicted would be the "sandbag season" that was supposed to arrive Wednesday, forecasters expect it to fill San Jose's thirsty water table.

"By the end of the weekend," Null said, "I wouldn't be surprised to see San Jose pretty close to normal -- if not above -- by Monday morning."

Never happened

On the heels of Hurricane Sandy's massive media mobilization on the East Coast, local TV news organizations dispatched reporters fitted out in foul-weather gear and had them standing by on camera, ready to cling to light poles when the fierce storm hit, just like their network counterparts.

But it never happened.

At one point early Wednesday, a reporter for one TV station was reduced to forlornly pointing to a few raindrops on her windshield from a brief shower that had already passed.

For much of the Bay Area, strong winds were the hallmark of Wednesday's storm. Gusts peaked at almost 80 mph on Poverty Ridge in Santa Clara County and neared 70 mph on Mount Diablo in Contra Costa County. At the site of the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge, workers got the day off -- but not before a flurry of activity to secure construction equipment ahead of the blustery storm.

"We have battened down the hatches out here on the project," said Caltrans spokesman Bart Ney.

People out for a stroll during a break in the downpour in downtown San Mateo welcomed the rain after last winter's dryness. Kate Parina, 63, of San Mateo, smiled at the falling drops as she headed to work, saying it's good for plants and will mean snow for skiers.

Paltry powder

Conditions at area ski resorts remained marginal after Wednesday's warm storm. Most of the day, the snow level remained above 7,000 feet at Truckee and other ski runs around Lake Tahoe, and what fell was wet and heavy. "If you want powder," Null advised, "go to the Rockies."

Sally Gunter, spokeswoman for Heavenly Mountain Resort, said the resort's upper base at 9,100 feet means they expect to see the white stuff and not the wet stuff at the higher slopes.

"We're very excited about this storm," she said. "It was good today, raining at lake level, but we had snow falling up top."

Amelia Richmond, of Squaw Valley, said they're hopeful, and "7,500 we can do."

"It's good news for us in terms of the upper mountain, where there's better skiing," she said.

Delays of almost four hours were reported for arriving flights at San Francisco International Airport on Wednesday morning, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, as winds surged in coastal areas. The late arrivals also caused departure delays. No major delays were reported at San Jose or Oakland airports.

PG&E crews were in place throughout the Bay Area to repair fallen power lines. The largest outage was in Pacifica, where more than 1,000 customers were without power; service was restored to most customers by 11 a.m., just as the storm was scooting out of the area.

While the storms will pack a lot of rain, they aren't expected to trigger the conditions needed for the Mavericks big wave surf contest off the San Mateo County coastline, organizers said.

Staff Writer Eric Kuhri contributed to this report. Contact Bruce Newman at 408-920-5004; follow him at Twitter.com/BruceNewmanTwit.