YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Ventura County

Rainstorm Brings Relief to Parched County

Long dry spell ends with up to 1 1/2 inches of moisture expected by Saturday. Farmers are relieved, but wildfire threat continues.

November 08, 2002|Holly Wolcott and Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writers

A Pacific storm delivered Ventura County's first significant rainfall of the season Thursday, providing relief to farmers and gardeners after the driest year on record.

Before the storm, which had dropped more than an inch of precipitation in the mountains above Ojai by 9 p.m., the last measurable rain had fallen in May. Despite the typical traffic mishaps that occur during inclement weather, many residents appreciated a break from the sunshine Thursday.

"I smelled it in the air when I woke up this morning, and I hope it doesn't stop for a while," said a smiling Summer Twigg, an Oak View resident who was walking in downtown Ventura with her 3-year-old son, Corgan.

Forecasters predict the storm will drop up to 1 1/2 inches of rain on the county by the time it wanes Saturday afternoon. Temperatures are expected to range from the low- to mid-50s to the 60s through Saturday, according to the National Weather Service office in Oxnard.

Though the rain should be light to moderate, the weather service has issued a surf advisory, warning surfers and coastal homeowners that waves could reach 8 to 12 feet today and possibly cause flooding in low-lying areas of west-facing beaches.

As of 9 p.m. Thursday, 0.75 of an inch of rain had fallen in Ojai, 0.5 of an inch in Ventura and Oxnard and 0.25 in Thousand Oaks and Simi Valley, according to the weather service.

Terry Schaeffer, an agricultural meteorologist who contracts with local farmers, said the storm is a start in the right direction.

If half an inch of rain falls, Schaeffer said, it should allow growers to put off irrigation for another two weeks. "Most farming operations will welcome the rain at this point," he said. "This will settle the dust and knock fire danger back further."

However, Schaeffer expects that this may be the last decent precipitation until later in the rain season, perhaps until late December or January.

The slow start for the rain season will likely postpone the conclusion of this year's fire season, which usually ends about Nov. 15.

"This will help, but until we get 3 or 4 inches it probably won't make a significant difference," said Sandi Wells, spokeswoman for the Ventura County Fire Department. "The hills have been so dry that it will take a lot for them to recover."

The last time a measurable amount of rain fell in Ventura County was May 20 and 21, when slightly less than 0.10 of an inch was recorded, officials said. The last heavy rain was in January.

"It's nice to see the rain again," said Jayme Laber, the county's senior hydrologist. "It's not a big one but it will help keep the dust down."

According to Laber, the last rainfall season, which ended Sept. 30, was one of the most dismal on record. For example, only 6.4 inches of rain was recorded at the Ventura County Government Center. The seasonal average for that location is 16 inches.

Although experts predict that the season's rainfall totals will be nowhere near the deluge levels reached during the El Nino winter of 1997 and `98, a calmer El Nino already has arrived.

In July, federal climate forecasters declared that El Nino had officially returned--although in a weakened state. This season's El Nino, which officials have said is headed toward California, could mean above-average rainfall and slightly warmer ocean waters.

Rain or no rain, the transitional living facility at Camarillo Airport always remains full, but director Diana Vogelbaum said the wet weather had prompted dozens more people to inquire about openings.

"There are definitely more people calling than usual," said Vogelbaum, who heads the 5-year-old RAIN Shelter, short for River-dwellers Aid Innercity Network.

Except for a Simi Valley emergency shelter that stays open from November through March, the county's homeless will have no beds until Dec. 1, the official opening day of so-called winter warming shelters.

With light water drops bouncing off their jerseys and cleats squishing in the grass, Ventura High School's varsity football team, the Cougars, held afternoon practice Thursday to prepare for a road game tonight against Santa Barbara High. "I love the rain," said Ventura High's athletic director, Phil McCune. "It's like liquid sunshine."

The night game against the Dons in Santa Barbara will be played in the rain, regardless of how heavy it might be. Only flooding and electrical storms stop play, McCune said.

As usual, county drivers didn't slow down for the precipitation. During a three-hour period Thursday morning when the rain started, the California Highway Patrol handled nearly 20 crashes--twice the normal amount for that time of day.

No major injuries were reported, but five incidents involved minor injuries, CHP Officer Steve Reid said.

"The rainy weather always causes an increase in collisions," said Reid. Besides fender-benders, another downside to the return of rain is the resulting storm runoff, which will likely increase bacteria in water along Ventura County's 42 miles of coast, according to Richard Hauge, coordinator of the county's ocean water quality monitoring program.

"For the past few months, we've had really good water quality," said Hauge, adding that local beaches will likely be posted as unclean if more than one-quarter of an inch of rain falls this weekend.

People are warned to avoid contact with runoff for 72 hours following a storm in order to protect themselves against illnesses including eye and skin irritation; ear, nose and throat problems; rashes; nausea; vomiting; gastrointestinal upset; and respiratory difficulty.

For more information on ocean water quality, check the Environmental Health Division's Web site at

Los Angeles Times Articles