After S.F.'s disturbing rain-free January, storm heads to N. California

After S.F.'s disturbing rain-free January, storm heads to N. California
San Francisco recorded no measurable rain in January for the first time 165 years. Above, a woman walks her dog on a dry hillside in the city's Bernal Heights Park. (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

After a dry January in which San Francisco received no rain the entire month for the first time in 165 years, rainfall figures released Monday show California is at 85% of normal for this time of year.

But a storm heading to Northern California this week could deliver snow to the Sierra and rain to shrinking reservoirs as the state enters its fourth year of drought.


The storm may reach Santa Barbara County late Friday and Saturday, but it's not expected to travel any farther south than that, said Kathy Hoxsie, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Oxnard.

But there's always a glimmer of hope for drought watchers.

"It's possible between now and the end of the week it might get a little closer," Hoxsie said.

Rainfall totals released Monday by the California Department of Water Resources recorded an average of 23.1 inches of rain as of Monday morning, or 85% of normal for the date.

In December, the numbers were 22.8 inches of rain — 131% of normal for the date.

In contrast to San Francisco, it's not usual for Southern California to receive little to no rain in the first month of the year, said Bill Patzert, a climatologist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

"In San Francisco, you always get something in January, so it's a little more spectacular when you get nothing," Patzert said Monday. "L.A. always has a dry month in the wet season."

A normal amount of rainfall in December in downtown Los Angeles is 2 inches. The area received 3.88 inches in December 2014, "so that was promising," Patzert said.

Still, downtown Los Angeles is at 78% of normal rainfall for this time of year, which would be 7.27 inches. So far, it has received 5.7 inches.

"Last year at this time, downtown was at 0.88, so relatively speaking, it seems like a deluge compared to last year up to this time," he said. "So at this point, it's more promising than last year, mostly because of an unusual December.

"But January, February and March are our three wettest months, and of course January was a total wipeout for most of the state."

Looking ahead over the next two months, Patzert said, more rain will not erase years of drought.

"This is our fourth year of drought, and everybody has got their fingers crossed for a February and March miracle, but even if that happens, there's no way we're out of this drought," he said. "If we had a wet February and March, everybody would feel better and it might delay the inevitable pronouncement by the state and the Metropolitan Water District that it's time for rationing -- but it might delay it only slightly."

Twitter: @amcovarrubias