Staff writers

If weather were boxing, the Ridiculously Resilient Ridge is still the champ after surviving a rough and tough challenge by the Pineapple Express.

"The Ridge sort of won," said Bob Benjamin, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Monterey. "The Pineapple did a good job beating it down a bit, but it did not knock it out."

As in the "sweet science" of boxing, a thirsty Bay Area and drought-stricken California have taken to cheering on every challenger that dares take on a despised but mighty champion. The latest pretender was a warm water Pineapple Express that charged in from the central Pacific Ocean. Despite a burst of showers late Sunday, the best the Express could do was dump most of its rain in the North Bay and pack a bit more snow in the Sierra Nevada.

Santa Rosa, in Sonoma County, for example got 2.8 inches of weekend rain while the system dumped more than 2.5 feet of snow at the Sierra-at-Tahoe ski resort.

The wet weekend weather definitely wasn't a drought-buster. It put, "a minor dent in the drought," Benjamin said. "To end it, we need several more storms, a progression of these, just to get to normal rainfall. But it is a step in the right direction."

What happened to the Pineapple Express is what happened to a previous, Alaskan storm earlier this month: The high-pressure ridge forced the Pineapple out of its comfort zone. Here's how:


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Pineapple Express storms come out of the central Pacific with power and a lot of relatively warm moisture. When they hit California, Benjamin said, they usually have enough energy to punch in all directions, dumping lots of rain in the East Bay and South Bay. This weekend's Pineapple didn't do that because the ridge kept the storm's heaviest blows in the North Bay. That's why all the visual weather reports -- and rainfall statistics -- backed talk of pouring rain up North and much less wetness in the South Bay.

Desperate situation

The North Bay city of Santa Rosa in Sonoma County received 2.8 inches of rain from Saturday to Sunday afternoon. Meanwhile, Concord in the East Bay received 1.1 inches and only 1.18 inches fell at Mineta San Jose International Airport in the South Bay. However, that total did not include a shower burst at about 5 p.m. and expected minor showers overnight.

The Santa Cruz Mountains hamlet of Ben Lomond received a whopping 4 inches at the same time, but the downpour did not carry "over the hill" into Silicon Valley, as they say up yonder.

Besides, drizzly Alaska storms and under-powered Pineapple Expresses don't mean much in droughts. What matters most to the state's water supply is the Sierra snowpack. So how did the Pineapple do there? Again, the news is mostly bad.

Shoppers carry umbrellas as clouds bring rain to  Broadway Plaza in Walnut Creek on Feb. 8, 2014.
Shoppers carry umbrellas as clouds bring rain to Broadway Plaza in Walnut Creek on Feb. 8, 2014. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Staff)

Karl Swanberg, a forecaster in the Sacramento National Weather Service office, said the storm dumped mostly rain in the mountains because it carried warm, tropical water. That's good for local reservoirs but not for the normal, deep winter snows that eventually melt and feed the streams and rivers that replenish big lakes and urban reservoirs hundreds of miles away.

"But when the situation is this desperate," chimed Swanberg, "everything helps."

The fans of downhill skiing won't argue. In the Sierra, the system dumped more than 2.5 feet of snow at the Sierra-at-Tahoe ski resort and 27 inches at the peak of Sugar Bowl. The top of Kirkwood received 22 inches, with 16 inches at its base, according to the weather service.

But anyone expecting every storm to end the drought should remember what normal looks like.

Normal is when the sun virtually disappeared for a week, when a string of storms pounded the South Bay in early March 2011. Normal is six feet of snow in one storm and bored skiers having to sit in the lodge because of avalanche danger. Normal is green golf courses.

Most important, normal is no Ridiculously Resilient Ridge parked over the Pacific and West Coast, knocking every storm that comes at it off kilter.

"The ridge is still there," forecaster Benjamin said, "and it's rebuilding."

How much it rebuilds is the big question. For now, he said, the ridge will rebuild enough to bring drought-like, warmer-than-average temperatures to the Bay Area starting Monday. Another storm system may develope by mid-weekend, but he said it's too early to say if it will dent the ridge considerably or fall flat like another bum of the week.

Affected flights

In San Francisco, 2.31 inches of rain fell, causing slick roads and creating a problem on the new eastern span of the Bay Bridge, where officials worked to repair a leak that left rainwater dripping into the steel structure beneath the road deck.

The rain brought some hassles to airport travelers. A San Francisco International Airport official said 91 flights either departing or landing were canceled through 3 p.m. Sunday and that flights were running 60 to 90 minutes behind schedule.

In San Jose, only four flights were canceled Sunday, each of them either destined or arriving from the Pacific Northwest, spokeswoman Rosemary Barnes said. A fifth flight scheduled to land in San Francisco was diverted to San Jose, she said.

At Oakland International Airport, only one flight was canceled, and spokesman Scott Wintner said it was not because of weather in the Bay Area.

On the roads, the California Highway Patrol reported several minor wrecks and flooded roadways. One lane on the connector ramp from westbound Interstate 580 to eastbound Highway 24 was covered with water Sunday morning, as well as at the Broadway exit off I-580.

Contact Joe Rodriguez at 408-920-5767 and follow him at Twitter.com/JoeRodMercury. Contact Rick Hurd at 925-945-4789 and follow him at Twitter.com/3rdERH.