Northwest California is currently plagued by abnormally dry conditions expected to linger through the spring, despite what scientists say was a good start to the year.
While a light rain is forecast over the next few days, the long-term trend is more dry weather, National Weather Service meteorologist Ryan Aylward said. The weather service released updated drought information, placing all of Northwest California under a “D0-Abnormally Dry” designation.
As of Monday, Feb. 25, Eureka has received 3.94 inches of rainfall since the beginning of the year. The record minimum for January and February rainfall is 3.98 inches set back in 1920.
Weather service hydrologist Reginald Kennedy said Northern California is shifting into “abnormally dry” on the U.S. drought monitor.
”We started out in December ranging anywhere from 125 to 150 percent above normal, but then we just did a complete turnaround for January and February,” he said.
In January, Humboldt County was about 35 to 50 percent of normal. In terms of precipitation, that equates to 1.8 inches of rain at the NWS office in Eureka, 1.8 in Scotia, 3.0 in Gasquet and 1.8 at the Crescent City Airport, according to NWS. Normal rainfall is 5.63 inches at the NWS office, 7.59 inches in Scotia, and 8.88 inches in Crescent City.
”Basically, what has been causing that was that in the Eastern Pacific, there's been a strong ridge of high pressure, and so all the weather systems that come in across the Pacific Ocean have been forced to go farther north into British Columbia, Washington and northern Oregon. Some even farther into northern Nevada,” Kennedy said.
The dry weather is forecast to continue into March.
”In a general sense, if we don't get the spring rains, that impacts the agricultural industry because they won't get the range line grasses they want for the cattle,” Kennedy said. “As we move into summer, some of the agricultural areas will have to do more irrigation. It has an impact potentially for summer fire season, but that's kind of getting way out there.”
Humboldt County Farm Bureau executive director Katherine Ziemer said farmers have not noticed anything yet, because of all the wet weather in December and January.
”A lot of the dry weather concerns are more in the Midwest and some in the Central Valley, but Humboldt County doesn't seem to be affected this time of year” Ziemer said. “When we have a lot rain, ranchers have a lot more work because of the wet ground and saturation, so it's actually a blessing for Humboldt County to not get so much rain in this winter time, because we've already had plenty for the time being.”
Ziemer said the county will need more rainfall come spring.
Humboldt County Agriculture Department commissioner Jeff Dolf said he is concerned about the current weather pattern and the potential hardships it could cause for local ranchers.
”The coastal areas are not as severely impacted immediately, but when there are prolonged dry periods late into the spring, what happens is that the range line grasses don't flourish as they normally do during a normal rainfall period, and they also dry out sooner, which puts pressures on producers to either cut back their herd sizes or take on additional costs to feed because they're not able to sustain the same herd sizes,” Dolf said.
Six Rivers National Forest deputy forest fire chief Mike Beasley said it is too early to tell what the dry weather could mean for the 2013 fire season.
”We had a good snowfall at the beginning of the winter, and then we had a deficit here these last couple months,” Beasley said. “In January and February, it's been dry, but you know that was helpful that we had some decent snow ... at the high elevations. A lot of that snow lingered through at the high elevations for some time, even through January and the first half of February. I think what really will make a big difference is moisture in the next couple of months.”
He said fire assessments will be conducted in April and May.
SHAUN WALKER/THE TIMES-STANDARD
1. The Eel River flows relatively slow and low near Fernbridge.
SHAUN WALKER/THE TIMES-STANDARD
2. The Eel River flow is low as it winds past Fortuna.