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More on the drought

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I know I’ve been harping on this damned drought out here in California for months, ever since it appeared (by early December) that 2013 was going to be the driest year in California’s history, with records going back to the Gold Rush.

That’s exactly how it turned out. People were hoping the rains would return in January, but now, with the month half over, that hasn’t happened, and the extended forecasts–completely dry and warm–mean we’ll now have to pin our hopes on February and March, both of which can be extraordinarily wet. February historically has been the wettest month of the rainy season, with 4.61 inches falling, on average, in San Francisco. That’s about one-fifth the seasonal total. This is why Gov. Jerry Brown has not yet declared a Drought Emergency in California, although he’s been urged to do so by Sen. Dianne Feinstein and others; the Governor feels it’s a little too early to panic, and he may be right.

On the other hand, vintners, as well as farmers of all crops, are starting to panic. Or maybe “panic” is too strong a word. They’re concerned. They’re forming contingency plans. What will they do if there’s no water to fight off Spring frosts? What will they do for irrigation when the heat spells return next summer? There are no easy answers. The San Francisco Chronicle reported a few days ago that “residents in many parts of California are being asked – and sometimes ordered – to scale back their water use.” It’s not only been a dry winter, it’s been a warm one. Yes, we had an unusually chilly early December, but since then, it’s been more like May. Oakland, where I live, has set numerous high temperature records lately, including yesterday, when it was 74 degrees. Other records were set in San Francisco, San Jose and Santa Maria, where it was an unbelievable 83 degrees. The flowering trees in Oakland (magnolias, plums) are in full bloom. We’re in Day Three of a high fire danger, Red Flag warning in the East Bay and North Bay hills. This morning, the situation has grown even worse; the state now is under an Extreme Fire Danger alert, and Southern Californians are on edge, as those dreaded Santa Ana winds kick up, howling through the canyons where wildfires erupt and roar through places like Malibu and Laguna Beach. The warnings extend all the way up and into the Sierra Foothills.

I see red-breasted robins, honeybees and tiger swallowtail butterflies flying around–things you shouldn’t see in the Bay Area in deep winter. It doesn’t make sense. My T.V. weatherman last night called the weather “eerie,” a good word. He’s a trained meterorologist and he doesn’t understand what’s happening. Nobody does.

As the website, Wunderground.com, reported today, “The prospects for any significant rain or mountain snow in California over the next seven to 10 days look dismal, according to the latest computer model forecast guidance. If this type of pattern were to persist through the final week of the month, many January precipitation records could fall by the wayside.” That should cause everyone–not just Californians–deep concern.

  1. Is this this “dry spell” a canary in the coal mine, or more like Big Bird in a wine barrel, or an anomaly? While this persistent high pressure has made for great surfing conditions along the coast and the Southern California like weather is easy to enjoy, knowing that we’re in a serious water deficit makes it difficult to rest easy. Regardless, I am hoping that the jet stream can move straight across the pacific, blow out the high pressure and set up a strong flow of moisture in our direction… filling reservoirs, recharging aquifers and getting the dust out of stream and riverbeds. Fingers crossed for February & March!

  2. David, it’s got to rain again someday, doesn’t it?

  3. One would think… just don’t want to wait until next season.

  4. And then there’s the modern “conservative” sitting in his/her fact free bubble, screaming irrationally, with ire.
    Blind, in denial, and hatred…

  5. Bob Henry says:

    UPDATED JANUARY 19, 2014 . . .

    Quoting myself:

    “But come the Spring, California’s governor will be forced to impose draconian water conservation measures as the snow pack in the Sierras will not lead to sufficient melt-off spring water for our farms and urban centers.”

    Saturday’s front page Los Angeles Times:

    “[California Governor] Brown Declares Drought;
    Emergency decree calls for voluntary conservation and steps to aid farmers.”

    Link: http://www.latimes.com/science/la-me-brown-drought-20140118,0,7874833,print.story

    Excerpts:

    “Gov. Jerry Brown officially declared a drought emergency in the state Friday, urging residents to cut water use by 20% and directing state agencies to take a range of steps to ease the effects of water shortages on agriculture, communities and fish and wildlife.

    . . .

    “Brown’s drought proclamation follows California’s driest year on record and comes amid dropping reservoir levels and no sign of relief in the near future.”

    ~~ Bob

    Jerry:

    Addressing your question to The Saint on accounting for those water “waste” numbers, see the 2009 Wall Street Journal article titled “Yet Another ‘Footprint’ to Worry About: Water.”

    Link: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123483638138996305.html

    Citing the article on how much water it takes to make:

    (1) beer (one pint takes 20 gallons);
    (2) coffee (one cup takes 35 gallons);
    (3) soda pop (one 2-liter bottle takes 132 gallons);
    (4) beef (one hamburger takes 630 gallons)

    Right now, our uncommonly warm (80 degrees on Christmas) drought condition in California is “good” for tourism in the cities (no rain to chase them away), and bad for tourism in our mountain ski resorts.

    But come the Spring, California’s governor will be forced to impose draconian water conservation measures as the snow pack in the Sierras will not lead to sufficient melt-off spring water for our farms and urban centers.

    California has “in barrel” two stupendous vintages — 2012 and 2013 — assuring future sales revenue and cash flow for wineries.

    But the 2014 vintage will be imperiled without rainfall. “Dry-farming” will take on a whole new meaning in the wine country.
    ~~ Bob

  6. Bob Henry says:

    FURTHER UPDATE JANUARY 24, 2014 . . .

    “Brace yourself for California’s Driest Winter in 500 years: UC Berkeley Professor”

    http://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/news/2014/01/21/californias-driest-winter-in-500-years.html?s=print

    Excerpt:

    “Yes, 2013 was the driest year in California since the 1840s, when recordkeeping started. But Lynn Ingram, a climate expert at the University of California, Berkeley, thinks this could be the Golden State’s driest year in half a millennium.

    “‘This could potentially be the driest water year in 500 years,’ said Ingram, a paleoclimatologist.

    “She studies fossilized records of earth’s climate going back millions of years — layers of rock or sediment, shells, microfossils — or other indicators, including rings in trees, seeking a long view.

    “Based on the width of old tree rings, Ingram concludes California hasn’t been this dry since 1580.”

    Link to interview: http://newscenter.berkeley.edu/2014/01/21/states-water-woes/

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