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The drought, all that monsoonal stuff, and El Nino. What’s going on?



Have you noticed how much sub-tropical moisture we’ve had since May? It seems like once a week the remnants of some hurricane or tropical storm are blowing over us. We even had heavy rain. We always get a little of this stuff, which is known as the North American Monsoon, but this year it seems really dominant. Typically, Mexico, Arizona and New Mexico get the heavy summer rainfall associated with it; California, especially along the coast, doesn’t. This year represents a big shift.

Several winemakers have told me the same thing. So I asked my meteorologist friend, Steve Paulsen, who’s the morning weatherman on KTVU-TV, what’s up, and he replied: Not only do I think you and your friends are correct but I also feel we’ll see a lot more later this month and into September. Two different animals though. The ‘rain’ we had back on June 10th was the remains of Hurricane Blanca which came up from Baja. Monsoon moisture from AZ then made frequent visits throughout much of July. Then the remains of Hurricane Dolores brought torrential rain to SoCal. What we saw yesterday was the blow-off from Tropical Storm Guillermo. An unusual summer indeed. Very warm ocean temps.”

I’m not the only one who’s been impressed. Just yesterday, the California Weather Blog (CWB) reported that we’ve had [q]uite a few waves of monsoonal moisture [which] have brought intense mountain and desert thunderstorm activity, some of which has locally made it into the coastal plain and Central Valley.” (The coastal plain is, of course, wine country.) In fact, CWB called those remains of Hurricane Dolores that Steve referred to “the most significant California tropical remnant event in recent memory” and added this startling fact: “the official city of San Diego observation site recorded more rainfall in 3 days during July 2015 than during all previous months of July since at least the 1800s….combined.” And how’s this: “[A]lmost all of southern California experienced more rain during one weekend in July 2015 than did most of Northern California during the entire month of January 2015.” I need hardly remind my readers that summer is California’s dry season; the rain is supposed to fall in the winter and early spring.

I don’t know if this is related to climate change or global warming or what, but for those of us who’ve lived here for a long time, it’s really strange. Meteorologists are trained scientists; they don’t freak out easily, or say something’s “unusual” unless they really, really think it is. When we get century-long records being shattered, the weathermen sit up and take notice. And now, here comes what some people are calling a “monster” El Nino.

Wouldn’t it be bizarre if we went from extreme drought to floods and mudslides? But then, climate change by definition is giving the world bizarre weather patterns.

* * *

I just got my favorite wine store newsletter, from Kermit Lynch, and as always, I read through it. Wow, when did French wine prices get so high? I don’t mean Burgundy and Bordeaux, I mean everything. I used to drink a lot of Faugeres; now, Kermit has some for $72 a bottle! Yikes. We hear a lot about the French shooting themselves in the foot, price-wise, at least here in the States. I’m not saying the wine isn’t worth it, since I haven’t had it. I’m just boggled.

  1. Jonathan King says:

    I had the same reaction to Kermit’s latest newsletter, with special angst over the three Faugeres bottlings. Grower greed may be behind any universally observed price increases for French wines, but for longtime Kermit Lynch customers, much of it is due to his penchant for stratospheric pricing of relatively simple wines. KLW is where I saw the first $20 bottle of cru Beaujolais in my life, among many other instances of sticker shock. It’s hard going in there when one remembers the $5 dom. Trevallons and $10 ‘Le Migoua’ Bandols of yore. It’s marvelous that his affiliated growers are making a decent living at their trade, but at the retail end, not every customer remembered to go to medical or law school to be able to keep up with KLW’s pricing.

  2. Especially given the dollar’s strength against the euro these days….

  3. Bob Henry says:

    We might see mudslides for a different reason: Summer wildfires that denude hillsides, followed by torrential rainstorms in the Fall and Winter.

    Lightly editing and summarizing a news report on the subject:

    Those burn areas will be altered by a freakish phenomenon called “hydrophobic soil” that can be caused by very hot fires — resulting in an impermeable waxlike layer below the surface that resists water. If you were to scratch the surface of the soil and pour water on it, the water would bead up and run off just like the hood of your car. When water doesn’t penetrate, it runs off. And as it runs off, it takes everything that’s loose. Hence mudslides.

    [Source: “After the Fire Comes the Real Devastation,” High County News, March 6, 1995. Link:

  4. Bob Henry says:

    Today (August 6th) marks the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

    When “the device” was tested in the New Mexico desert, the superheating of the surrounding sand from the explosion converted it into Trinitite (a.k.a. Alamogordo glass).


  5. Bob Henry says:


    I likewise remember those Trevallons.

    Are you sitting down?

    Talk about sticker shock creating acute vertigo:

    (Of course, it’s one thing to “ask” for this stratospheric price. It’s another thing to actually get it. Fortunately, a member of my wine group still boasts bottles in his collection.)

    ~~ Bob

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