Updated 11Am, Monday Jan.14, 2014.  The below Fire Weather Watch has been upgraded to a Red Flag ,Warning.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

.Yeah, it’s winter here in northern California.  The wall calendar says so. It must be real.

As many of us are aware, there hasn’t been much rain for 13 months.  What?   You mean that gully washer on Saturday?  Nope not quite, it’s so dry in Sonoma County that the National Weather Service has posted a Fire Weather Watch for offshore winds, low humidity and warm temperatures in the hills of Sonoma County.  I would bet that before today-Monday-is done, the watch could turn in to Red Flag warnings.  Just a hunch.   The watch is in effect from 10pm this evening till 10am Tuesday morning (Jan. 14).  The weather readings at the Hawkeye weather station on Geysers Mountain in NE Sonoma County shows the wind gusting to 32mph from the NE this morning, a relative humidity of 29% and a temperature of 60.  This is January?  We are usually photographing snow storms in the hills this time of year.

The latest forecast mentions that there may not be any rain right through January.  While February could be wet, the way the high pressure ridge has been this year gives little confidence to those worrying about water.  The rainfall deficit is becoming a serious issue.

While it’s not unheard of, fires do happen in January.  The picture below was shot January 17, 2012.

Matt Williams of the Kenwood Fire Department scrapes away hot spots on a two acre brush fire near Trinity Road in Glen Ellen, Tuesday Jan. 17, 2012. The lack of rain underscores the dry winter, which is about to change with several storms lined up in the Pacific. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2012

Notice the caption.  Storms on the horizon.  I quipped to a Cal Fire battalion chief on the scene that day  I would see him in the spring, because of the wet weather on the horizon. It was time to stick a fork in fire season.  And it did rain, so much so that people were being rescued from high water after driving their vehicles in to flooded areas just a week later, below.

Windsor firefighters walk a woman to safety after she attempted to drive through floodwaters at Mark West Station Road and Starr Road, when the engine died, Monday morning Jan. 22, 2012. The woman was not injured. Overnight rains flooded creeks and streams, leading to hazardous driving conditions around Sonoma County. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2012

Then in February of 2012, high winds fanned a fire on Atlas peak in Napa County, below.

A Napa firefighter readies a chainsaw to cut brush as a wind driven brush fire races across Atlas Peak, Feb. 23, 2012 above the Napa Valley floor. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2012

This is indicative of the dry winters we’ve been having.  A lot of plants go dormant in the winter.  The grass may be green, but the bigger species need a lot of rain to grow and stay moist.  We just haven’t received a lot of precipitation in the last three years to keep the vegetation on the green side and the medium and large fuels have become stressed due to the lack of moisture.

Case in point, the November 2013 fires in the Geysers and the Napa hills pushed by 55mph winds, below.

Firefighters from Schell Vista and Santa Clara Cal Fire prepare to put out hotspots on a fire in the hills of Soda Canyon in Napa Valley, Friday Nov. 23, 2013. The fire grew to over 300 acres by daybreak, fanned by high winds. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

 

Fire rages along the slopes of the Geysers geothermal field, Friday Nov. 22, 2013 just off Geyser Road east of Geyserville. High winds fanned the blaze to an estimated 900 acres, with power lines reportedly down in the area. Several county strike teams as well as Cal Fire were on hand to fight the fire. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

December 2013 was quiet weather wise.  But we didn’t get much rain either.  The water levels of  Lakes Pillsbury and Mendocino continued to drop, below.

Rebecca Plaster of Susanville and Niles Bagley of Windsor walk along the lake bottom canyons of Lake Mendocino, Friday Dec. 13, 2013 in Ukiah. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

With docks high and dry, fishermen moor their boat on the bank of a very low Lake Pillsbury Monday Dec. 30, 2013. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

Now, January 2014. Hardly any precipitation to speak of.  Two fires broke out in Humboldt County last week burning about 1,000 acres between them. Another fire in the Ishi wilderness near Cohasset, burned through nearly  800 acres.  Helicopters were called in to fight the fire, but were unable to dip into lakes because they were frozen.  The Redding Air Attack base had to be reopened to launch fix winged firefighting aircraft.

We had a freeze too.  It burned most of the eucalyptus trees in the area.  When a rancher in Two Rock, finishing up planting grass seed, collided with a power pole shearing it off,  fallen electrical lines started a brush fire that raced up a a dry hillside in to the freeze burned eucalyptus, below.

Firefighters had their work cut out for them Friday evening Jan. 3, 2014 after a tractor plowed in to a power pole, shearing it off, starting a grass fire in the Two Rock valley. With the dry winter so far, the hillsides are brown. Several county agencies including a full wildland response from Cal Fire helped to contain the out of the ordinary grass fire along Two Rock Road. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2014

Firefighters had their work cut out for them Friday evening Jan. 3, 2014 after a tractor plowed in to a power pole, shearing it off, starting a grass fire in the Two Rock valley. With the dry winter so far, the hillsides are brown. Several county agencies including a full wildland response from Cal Fire helped to contain the out of the ordinary grass fire along Two Rock Road. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2014

So while it’s not unheard of to have dry warm weather in the middle of winter here in Sonoma County, the lack of any kind of moisture is having an impact on  fire conditions, water tables, ranchers, reservoirs and communities faced with a very real prospect of some type of mandatory conservation in the not to distant future.

-Kent Porter