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Where did the rain go?

Paul Lowenthal and his 4-year-old daughter, Olivia, take time to smell the flowering plum trees on the Windsor Town Green on Monday.

CHRISTOPHER CHUNG/Press Democrat
Published: Monday, February 25, 2013 at 6:23 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 7:07 a.m.

It may be unusually sunny and dry, but it is too soon to start worrying about a drought in Sonoma County.

Nary a drop of rain has splattered on Santa Rosa sidewalks in 50 of the past 55 days, one of the driest two-month periods on record. It's a trend expected to stretch into spring, with no storm systems in sight.

Last week, weather forecasters warned there is a high potential for drought this year in California and other parts of the country.

In Sonoma County, however, the dry days can simply be enjoyed, thanks to heavy rains in December that filled the region's reservoirs.

"We're not anywhere near talking drought-like conditions here locally," said Sonoma County Water Agency spokesman Brad Sherwood. "The December downpour was tremendously helpful."

Rainfall in Santa Rosa is running about 13 percent below normal for the water year that began July 1, according to Press Democrat records. The area has received 21.07 inches of precipitation over the past eight months, down from an average of 24.34 inches.

"For the year, we're not that far behind," National Weather Service forecaster Austin Crosf said. "The situation is not as dire."

Normally, Santa Rosa receives around 6 inches of rain in January, according to the Weather Service. But this year, the area got just more than 1 inch.

This month has been even drier. So far this month, the area has received just 0.26 inches of rain, the third-driest February since 1931, according to Press Democrat records.

Northern California "started out so well, but then the spigots kind of turned off," said David Miskus, a meteorologist at the Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center.

The center warned that drought conditions gripping parts of the Midwest and West threaten to spread into Northern California over the next three months. Abnormally dry to exceptional drought conditions already exist over 67 percent of the lower 48 states, according to the National Drought Early Warning Outlook.

"The 2012/2013 drought has serious implications for agriculture, navigation, recreation and municipal water supplies, costing the nation at least $35 billion in economic losses," the report said.

A continued dry spell could increase the danger from wildfires later in the year, Crosf said.

"Vegetation would have longer to dry out, making it easy to spark a wildfire," he said.

So far, local water managers aren't terribly worried.

Mike Thompson, assistant general manager of the county Water Agency, noted the region has implemented conservation measures in recent years that have reduced its use of water.

"We're in a lot better shape than we were five to 10 years ago," he said. "We've had a 25 percent lower water usage over the last five years."

And despite the dry weather, it's also cooler than normal, which is good for cities that receive their water from snowpack in the Sierra.

"There's no rapid spring melt-off, so it'll be a slower melt," Miskus said.

The sunny weather in Sonoma County is getting no complaints from residents, as golfers hit up local courses and bikers take to the roads.

"We're having a lot of people come, and we're doing really well," said Mike Scolieri, who works in the pro shop at the Bennett Valley Golf Course.

Scolieri said water is a concern, but he hasn't noticed a need for extra use of the sprinklers at the course.

"We're definitely hoping for some rain," said Scolieri, "But we're also pretty booked up with this nice weather."

News Researcher Janet Balicki contributed to this story.

Staff Writer Melody Karpinski can be reached at 521-5205 or melody. karpinski @pressdemocrat.com.

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