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Had enough rain? Get ready for more

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Yesterday’s headline in the San Francisco Chronicle that Schwarzenegger is playing politics in refusing to declare an end to the drought that he officially declared two years ago didn’t surprise me. Despite “heavy snowfall [that] buried the Sierra Nevada and torrential rains [that] drenched much of California,” the Governator found plenty of reasons to allow the drought to continue — on paper, that is.

It certainly no longer exists in nature. California’s snowpack was more than 140 percent above average as of April 30, and that was already before the recent wave of storms dumped still more snow in the mountains — with more set to fall this weekend.

On Monday, about half an inch fell throughout Northern California wine country. By this time of the year, it should be dry and sunny, with temps in the 70s. But no! Lance Armstrong was in Santa Rosa, for the Amgen Tour, and the Press Democrat had him asking, “Does it always rain here?”, a question millions of the rest of us have pondered.

It wasn’t just wet in the north country. “One storm barreling ashore now and another expected to follow this weekend will bring rare, drenching May rain and cool conditions to much of California and the West Coast,” said this article on AccuWeather’s website
.

Storm

May storms batter California

I got a nice little running commentary the other day on my Facebook page when I posted about “the coldest, wettest May in years.” Apparently I have a lot of winemaker friends, and they engaged each other in the comments section, describing how they’re try to control mildew and botrytis. From John Kelly: “’no rain on bloom’ from your lips to god’s ears.” The more optimistic winemakers, such as Justin Mund, down in Santa Barbara, said, “It [the rain] doesn’t really matter anyway right now unless it is going to affect bloom. It will be dry soon enough!”

But will it? My faithful Facebook friend, Peter Cargasacchi, wrote from his perch in the Santa Rita Hills, RAIN/DRIZZLE… EL NINO CONDITIONS CONTINUE ACROSS THE EQUATORIAL PACIFIC OCEAN WITH SEA SURFACE TEMPERATURE DEPARTURES OF +1.0 DEGREE C OR GREATER ACROSS PORTIONS OF THE CENTRAL PACIFIC. OCEAN SUB-SURFACE TEMPERATURE ANOMALIES ALSO REMAIN POSITIVE FROM THE SURFACE TO A DEPTH OF 75 METERS FROM NEAR 160 E EAST…

And El Nino, as we know all too painfully, pulls the storm track southward, resulting in greater precipitation in California.

It’s not just wet, it’s cold. I asked my friend, KTVU-TV meteorologist Steve Paulsen, just how cold it’s been, and he wrote: “the mean temperature at Sacramento Executive Airport so far this month is 55.5 degrees. That is 3.4 degrees below normal and the coldest mean temperature for  Sacramento since 1948.” Folks, 3.4 degrees is a HUGE temperature change. By the way, the reason they picked Sacramento, not San Francisco or some other coastal city, was because Sacto is “not influenced by the cold, onshore flow from the Pacific” and thus is a more reliable gauge of weather-related (as opposed to maritime-influenced) temperature.

Today’s Chronicle says the well-known Bay Area meteorologist, Mike Pechner, calls “the string of cold, wet weather ‘unprecedented in its strength and duration,’” and that it could “last until June.” My own take is that climate change is deranging California’s weather pattern, making it cooler; add El Nino, and you get wetter, too. What’s that you say? “Heimoff’s not a meterologist, what the hell does he know?” Well, you don’t have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.

P.S. Wine Enthusiast has a really cool contest on their Facebook site. You can access information about it here, or here. Check it out.

  1. I’ve got us at 30.3″ so far this season here in Sonoma – wettest year since 2006. Rain this time of year is not that unusual in our vineyard. In the last 12 vintages only 99, 01, 04, 07 and 08 did not have significant accumulation in May. In 98, 02, 05 and 06 these storms arrived in the last half of the month.

    The timing and the accumulations, along with the cooler weather, have meant that we have not needed to irrigate even the baby vines so far this year. If the weather continues cool we will have less canopy work to do later in the season. And if it stays coolish through harvest we will have better natural acidity. These are all good things.

    Of course it would be nice if we could start harvest before November.

  2. If things keep going as they have, northern California might get a really good Oregon vintage this year.

  3. This year will be a wet, El Nino year, though we don’t know what subsequent years will bring. I suppose that keeping the drought on paper allows the state to conserve and replenish stores.

    My water rates jumped from a little over a $1/HCF (HCF=748 gallons) to $3.56/HCF (plus sewage charges). This is likely a permanent raise.

    In the process, the state and water agencies can raise some funds (for water infrastructure?) – especially from those whose usage goes into Tier2 (about $6/HCF).

    One could argue, though, that keeping the drought going on paper benefits those agencies whose revenue depends on water consumption (and prices).

  4. A year to pull a few extra leaf earlier and drop excess fruit and hope for no precip in September. This may be a year not so far off from last year where Mother Nature forces folks to harvest on time rather them leaving the clusters to hang… hang… and hang some more.

  5. Two excellent graphical representations of what sort of spring it has been in California:

    1. Temperature departure from average since April 1:
    http://www.wrcc.dri.edu/cgi-bin/anomimage.pl?calAprTvdep.gif

    2. Precipitation departure from average since April 1:
    http://www.wrcc.dri.edu/cgi-bin/anomimage.pl?calAprPdep.gif

  6. John–

    I have long theorized (and Steve H. has also) that the natural weather phenomena here in northern CA would see more fog if the interior heated up because of global warming. Do you have any thoughts along those lines?

    This year’s weather, however, seems to be the gift of El Nino, which, in an of itself, may or may not be accelerated by global warming.

  7. Thomson Vineyards has applied 5 light sulfur sprays since bud break and we just saw bloom in the Chardonnay this weekend. In an average year, we apply 4-6 total sprays. Sulfur helps combat the moisture, but the sporadic showers sure are increasing our labor and spray material costs. I came across a new Farmers’ Forecast tool that I blogged about today: http://wp.me/pJhAS-bN We’re hoping the rain stops soon so we aren’t harvesting the Monticello Merlot, at 1,500 feet above sea level…in December! Until then, here’s what it looks like in the vineyard, trying to do work, while it’s raining http://twitpic.com/11qxm6

  8. Paul, even before I saw your name on this comment, I knew it had to be from you! You get 100 points for consistency.

  9. Steve, despite the above average snowpack and rainfall totals, I do not think our drought is over on paper or on the ground. I could be wrong here but I think we had seen many poor rainfall years in a row in CA, enough to be a trend. One good year will help of course but may not make up for the recent past. I’m sure Governator would agree.

  10. Based on WRCC data (2005-2009) from Santa Rosa, Oakville and Carneros stations, 2005 and 2007 had mean temperatures significantly below the 1971-2000 normal. Paso Robles, Santa Maria and San Pasqual stations had only one cooler year (2005).
    Both events seem to be strongly correlated with El Niño: in 2005 (Jan) Equatorial Pacific water temperatures were 4º Celsius above normal; in 2007 (Jan) water temps were 2º Celsius above normal.
    January, this year, Eq. Pacific water was 2º Celsius above normal; the unusual fact is that it remains (05/19) 1,0-1,5ºC above normal.
    Source: NOAA – USA

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