At last, rain! Measurable rain!
On Wednesday, for the first time in 53 days, the Bay Area rejoiced under gloomy skies and relished a bona fide ... drizzle.
Perhaps never before have so many Californians been so delighted to wake up to wet streets. Office workers in Sacramento cheered as big fat raindrops pelted their windows Wednesday afternoon. Sierra ski resorts celebrated the first hint of powder in weeks. And conservation-enthusiast Donna Dearinger eagerly checked the bounty in her rain barrels.
"I've been doing mental rain dances for months," said the resident of San Jose's Rose Garden, who says even a quarter-inch of rain nets her 50 gallons of water.
But don't get too excited, forecasters say. Drizzles happen during droughts -- but don't mean much.
Such is the desperation for any amount of accumulation in a state so thirsty for water that President Barack Obama called Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday to express his concern. The state is so bone-dry that on Wednesday the California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced it has closed dozens of rivers, creeks and tributaries to fishing from the Oregon border south to Big Sur to protect the migration of endangered coho salmon and threatened steelhead. Next week the agency will ask the state Fish and Game Commission to take other extraordinary measures, including: extending these bans through April 30, closing the main stem of the Russian River to anglers, and banning fishing in the mouth of any coastal stream west of a Highway 1 bridge. "We fully understand the impact these closures will have on California anglers and the businesses related to fishing in California, and we really feel for them," Charlton Bonham, director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, said in a statement. "However the science is clear. Two-thirds of the wettest part of winter is now behind us, and conditions are looking increasingly grim."
Earlier this week, state public health officials announced they are busy preparing backup plans for 17 small communities across California that could run out of water within 60 to 120 days, as wells and reservoirs run dry. And state fire officials hired an additional 125 firefighters to prepare for an early and busy wildfire season. While the governor has called for Californians to cut their water use by 20 percent, water suppliers across the region and state are calling for their customers to conserve.
Wednesday's showers ended a streak of consecutive dry days since Dec. 7, with the heaviest rain expected overnight into Thursday morning. Forecasters predicted a quarter-inch of the wet stuff to hit the North Bay but a fifth-inch or less to wash over the rest of the Bay Area.
After a record dry 2013, rainfall totals remain dangerously low.
And the recent rainfall is far from the beginning of the end of our woes.
"The drizzle means absolutely nothing regarding the drought," said Steve Anderson, a forecaster with the National Weather Services. "It's not even a drop in the bucket."
And clear skies are expected to return later Thursday and remain for at least another week.
Some are literally praying for the return of the rain. Bay Area Muslims are turning to faith to defeat the drought on Saturday when members of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations hold a "pray for rain" event at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton. They are expecting several hundred worshippers, said the organization's executive director, Zahra Billoo.
In Tahoe, Sugar Bowl ski resort shut down on Wednesday -- to gear up for the incoming snowstorm the area's resorts hope will revive a lost ski season. Forecasters expect that could bring about 2 feet of snow.
"We're hoping its going to be a powder weekend," said Kyle Jost, a supervisor at Sugar Bowl. "We are optimistic for February and March. We're hoping we have more storms like this. The season's not over."
Reporter Aaron Kinney contributed to this report. Contact Nicholas St. Fleur at 408-920-5064. Follow him at Twitter.com/SciFleur.