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