US – Winter shaping up to be a dry one
Farmers are fretting, winter sports are suffering and water managers are mulling over supplies. The U.S. Drought Monitor shows abnormally dry conditions in Inland Southern California and moderate drought for much of the northern part of the state. Farmers have had so many loss claims on his crop insurance over the past decade that he will be reimbursed for merely half the losses.
The consequences of this winter’s lack of rain are plain to see on Dennis Blehm’s family-owned farm in Hemet, where the wheat crop has sprouted, turned brown and withered over the crusted soil.“I’d say in 10 days, we’ll lose our seed. It’s sprouted, it’s grown, it’s going to die,” said Blehm, whose harvest is sold to mills for flour, bread, dog food and other products. “There’s only about 2 inches of moisture in the ground and we need 6 to 10 inches.”Blehm is a dry-land farmer, relying strictly on rainfall instead of irrigation. This year has so far been a low spot in an up-and-down business, one of many that rely on the weather for their profit.The snowpack in the Sierra Nevada last month was the second driest December on record, and January — usually the wettest month — is lagging behind normal, even with the recent storms.Farmers such as Blehm are fretting, winter sports are suffering and water managers are mulling over supplies. The U.S. Drought Monitor shows abnormally dry conditions in Inland Southern California and moderate drought for much of the northern part of the state.Blehm farms on 7,800 acres spread around Hemet, Perris, Nuevo and other areas. He stands to lose a good portion of his $1 million crop, especially if 80-degree temperatures and drying winds persist.Blehm has had so many loss claims on his crop insurance over the past decade that he will be reimbursed for only half his losses, he said.This year reminds him of the spring of 2007, when rain was a tenth of normal. That marked the first of the state’s three-year drought.‘DISMALLY DRY’This week, state water officials will trek into the Sierra to take their monthly snowpack measurements. What they find won’t be a surprise.“It’s just dismally dry for this time of year,” said Dave Rizzardo, chief of snow surveys and water supply forecasting for the state Department of Water Resources. For snow in the northern Sierra, “we’re almost 20 inches behind last year’s pace.”The Sierra readings are critical because that snowmelt fills reservoirs that feed the State Water Project, which supplies two-thirds of the state.Riverside had just under a half-inch of rain in December, about a third of normal for the month. January also brought a little less than a half-inch, more than 2 inches below average.Sierra snowpack was just 10 percent of normal until the first of three storms hit Jan. 19, raising levels to 33 percent of normal when last measured.John Gless, who farms 300 acres in Riverside, Hemet, Coachella and Kern County, already is buying irrigation water for his citrus trees — two months earlier than normal. The dry weather also is causing other problems.“Without the rain to clean the trees and leach the salts, the growth of the fruit is smaller this year,” he said.In the Central Valley, numerous irrigation districts delivered water almost two months earlier than usual for stressed winter feed crops and fruit and nut trees.HARD TO RECOVERSimilar pain is being felt by ski shops in the San Bernardino Mountains.At Goldsmith’s Board House in Big Bear Lake, January sales and rentals are way down, owner Linda Goldsmith said.“Somebody said, ‘It’s a beautiful day,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, unfortunately, it is,’” she said.Business is driven by perceptions, Goldsmith said. When people down the hill are wearing shorts and flip-flops, it’s hard for them to imagine good snow conditions in the mountains. But December snow laid down a decent base and snowmaking made up the rest, she said.At Snow Summit, all of the 26 runs are open except one, which is closed for snowmaking, according to the resort’s website.The resort received about 4 inches of snow this month. The average January snowfall at Big Bear Lake is 14.8 inches, according to the Western Regional Climate Center.“We need a winter kick,” Goldsmith said.In the water industry, December, January and February are known as “the big three” because they are responsible for the bulk of winter weather.Missing one of those months is hard to make up for by the end of the season, but two dry months is almost impossible to recover from, said Rizzardo of the Department of Water Resources.A drought has not been declared by state officials, largely because last year’s record rain and snowfall left reservoirs with ample supplies. Lake Shasta, the system’s largest reservoir, is at 68 percent of capacity, average for this time of year, according to a state website.The force in play both years has been La Niña, although this year’s dry weather is more typical of the weather system, which cools the ocean in the Pacific and pushes the jet stream and cold arctic air to the north.Another factor is a positive Arctic oscillation, an atmospheric pressure pattern that has kept the jet stream north and pushed storms into Alaska. Last year, a negative Arctic oscillation overruled La Niña’s influence and pushed strong, cold storms into California, said William Patzert, a climatologist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.“The question is, ‘Can we salvage anything in February and March?’ At this point, I’m counseling caution,” he said.
Source – http://www.pe.com/