Spring 2010: wet, cold
It’s raining again here in cloudy, wet Oakland, as it is in most of California from the Central Coast northward. It seems like this has been a really rainy winter, and it doesn’t want to stop. Not that I’m complaining. Well, maybe I am, a little — but the most common phrase this year has been “We need the water.” And we do, “we” being not just us humans, who consume it in the form of melted snowpack from the High Sierra mostly, but also the grapevines. Several winemakers have told me over the last two weeks that, despite all the rain, they were wishing for one or two more storms. Well, they’re getting what they asked for.
The season started out rainy and never stopped. Oakland got a record 3.86 inches back last Oct. 13, the “storm from hell” that sparked the infamous question, “Did you pick before or after the rains?” (For the record, Napa got 3.65 inches in that storm, while 3.16 inches poured down on the Sonoma County Airport.) In November, things dried out, but December turned wickedly cold and wet, a trend that has lasted until now.
By the time April comes to Northern California, your mind and body are prepared for Spring. Every flowering tree is in full bloom, the wildflowers lend a riot of color to the fields and hills, the robins are back, and even the fruit flies make their first appearance of the season. (Where do they live during the winter?) April holds the promise of six months of warm, sunny weather; April is the threshold of Paradise.
But this April has been a cruel tease. We had a day or two in the high 70s. But here are random notes from my Vintage Diary:
April 4: Cold, wet and windy.
April 7: More very cold weather, very wet and rainy.
April 10: The month continues to be very cold and wet.
April 22: The rain continues. Very, very cold.
April 28: Two consecutive days of rain.
The Oakland Airport weather station has had 19.75 inches of rain since last July 1 through today, which is 115% of the normal rainfall, 17.11 inches. The average precipitation for the season (which runs from July 1-June 30 every year) is 22.94 inches, so even though it feels like it’s been raining forever, we’re more than three inches below average. But we still have May to get through, a tricky month; the average precipitation here in May is less than an inch, but last May was very rainy, especially in the North Coast. We had big storms the first week of May, 2009, with totals up to 5 inches, and June was no picnic. My local weatherman called June, 2009 “the coldest June in 15 years.”
I’ve been noting ever since 2005 that the weather here in coastal California seems cooler than normal. That seems to be continuing. It may be that the Great Interior Basin (around the Four Corners of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado) is heating up, as well as California’s Central Valley. That would create a lower pressure gradient that would suck in air from over the eastern Pacific, where the water temperature is always cold, cooling the coast before the air warmed up again on its way inland. Whatever the reason for our cooler weather along the coast, it’s good for the grapes and wine (unless you get hit by mold or rain or a frost). Cooler temps = longer hangtime = ripeness at lower brix = more flavor with lower alcohol. At least, that’s the theory.
Anyway the forecast for today is continued showers and even the possibility of thunderstorms. The longer range forecast calls for clearing and warmer after today. But Springtime in California, like I said, can be a tease.