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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.


Spring 2010: wet, cold

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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.


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