The drought-plagued Bay Area received a desperately needed drenching Wednesday, with another storm on the way Friday, packing more powerful wind gusts and threatening power outages.
"Nothing out of the ordinary," said National Weather Service forecaster Steve Anderson, for what's typical this time of year.
Except nothing is ordinary this year as California contends with a historic drought, thirsting for any precipitation it can get -- even when it means snarled commutes, minor flooding, downed power lines and flight delays.
Meteorologists tallied 0.41 inches of rain in San Jose by 4 p.m. Wednesday, 0.33 inches in San Francisco, 0.19 inches in Oakland and 0.30 inches in Concord.
But in a sign of just how dry it's been, San Jose's measly 24-hour total, which didn't include rain after sunset Wednesday, represented about 15 percent of the city's rainfall since July.
In another dire sign, San Jose's 3.08 inches of rain this season is only 28 percent of normal.
"The probability of recovering from the deep hole the state is in now is virtually none," said Marty Grimes of the Santa Clara Valley Water District, which is asking its customers for a 20 percent cut in water use to cope with the diminishing supplies. "We're expecting drought conditions to continue through 2014."
In other words, don't be fooled by this rain.
After a respite Thursday, a second stronger storm is expected to hit early Friday morning and continue a steady rain through most of the day. By the storm's end this weekend, forecasters expect about 1.5 inches of rain in the lower elevations and 3-5 inches possible in the Santa Cruz Mountains down to Big Sur.
Getting upwards of 5 inches of rain this week in the Santa Cruz Mountains is welcome, Grimes said, but that's only enough to be absorbed into the ground. Eight inches over a few days would be needed to generate runoff to start replenishing the shallow reservoirs.
Extraordinary is what is needed.
"Unless this turns out to be one of the wettest rainy seasons ever, we will be in a shortage situation this summer and going into next winter," said Abby Figueroa, spokeswoman for the East Bay Municipal Utilities District, which has called for 10 percent water cuts from its customers.
Chances for any major changes in weather patterns this winter look bleak. Climate predictions suggest continued lower than normal rainfall ahead, according to the weather service, although signs are building next winter for El Niño conditions, when warmer ocean waters can bring wetter winters to California.
The California Legislature is still planning for the worst. On Thursday, both houses of the Legislature are expected to vote on a $687 million drought-relief plan, with most of the money earmarked for water conservation and recycling programs.
In the meantime, all umbrellas are at the ready for Friday. As much as 2 feet of snow is expected above 7,000 feet in the Sierra Nevada.
"We're still on track to get a decent dumping everywhere," National Weather Service forecaster Matt Mehle said.
And cities across the region are once again preparing for possible flooding, opening sandbag stations.
On Wednesday, East Palo Alto placed city workers on "storm ready" to avoid flooding along San Francisquito Creek.
The California Highway Patrol reported some afternoon flooding Wednesday on freeway onramps in Sunnyvale, Redwood City and Morgan Hill.
In Los Altos, some 2,000 PG&E customers lost power Wednesday afternoon, including shop owners downtown.
"We turned on some flashlights and lit a candle," said optician Lori Crowell of Los Altos Optometric Group on Second Street. "Now the wind is blowing like crazy, and it's a light, light sprinkle."
The power returned in about 20 minutes, she said. "I love the rain. I had the window open smelling the clean, clean air and hoping it continues. I'll take the outage."
The downpour kept students in their classrooms at recess and lunch at St. Nicholas Catholic School off El Monte Road, but there was no stopping them when school let out during a windy deluge in the afternoon.
"They ran out there and were so excited and splashing, stomping in the water," said Diana Szelong, who works in the school office. "This is about the first time this year it's been like this."
Staff writer Eric Kurhi contributed to this story. Contact Julia Prodis Sulek at 408-278-3409. Follow her at Twitter.com/juliasulek.