Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Our Rainy North Bay Winter: The Drought may Finally be Easing



The rain has stopped for now and the sun is out! It's in the mid 60's... a perfect afternoon. 

While I was napping this morning, we were blessed with a total of 0.91 inches today. That means almost 6 inches for the month so far.  We were an inch under average last month so we've made that up and the month is still young.

Here in American Canyon, we get an average of 20.39 inches of rain every year, about the same as the average for the state of California but roughly half what the national average is.  Winter is our “rainy season” and we get most of our rain (83% or just over 17 inches) between November and March.  

Our monthly averages are: 

January - 4.38 in; February - 3.79 in; March - 2.50 in;
April - 1.04 in; May - 0.82 in; June - 0.19 in;
July - 0.00 in; August - 0.03 in; September - 0.32 in;
October - 0.97 in; November - 2.56 in; December - 3.79 in.

We are experiencing a state-wide multi-year drought, so severe that mandatory water restrictions have been in place now for a year, along with a state mandated water use reduction averaging 25% for most communities.   

By the end of the summer, usually verdant hillsides were dried and brown and brush fires were a constant threat.  The risk struck perilously close to home when a grass fire burned a wide swath across the hill behind our home.

Rainfall averages in our city have been abysmal over the last few years with the annual precipitation averaging 40% - 50% of the normal amount we usually receive.  The cumulative deficit has put the majority of the state – including the part of the state that we live in – in the “extreme drought” category.  

Welcome rain, at a steady rates without flooding.
Even more problematic than the local lack of rainfall has been an equally significant decrease in the snow pack in the Sierra Nevada mountains.  Melting of the mountain snow pack each spring replenishes the aquifers and groundwater supply that is used during the warmest, driest months of the year.   

In years of normal rainfall, his pattern keeps precipitation and water use in balance.   

But when we don’t get the rainfall and the mountains especially don’t get their usual winter precipitation, we operate in a deficit that has been building dramatically for five years.

This year’s el nino will hopefully turn the tide and help us to replenish some of the severe deficit.  Already the snow pack is more than twice the average for the entire winter and the season is still young.  And here in the North Bay we are seeing optimistic forecasts and substantial enough rain to require umbrellas, raincoats, and for fellow arthritis sufferers, extra ibuprofen.  All of this is good.

Here is how things are shaping up.  Looking at the actual and average rainfall for the wet winter months, we will hopefully reach our stride and hit our annual average by the end of the month.   The effect of el nino is definitely. being felt

November 2015   1.21 inches
November Average   2.56 inches

December 2015   2.78 inches
December Average   3.79 inches

January 2016   5.78 to date
January Average   4.38 inches

November - January Total   9.77 inches to date
November - January Average   10.73 inches

For today, I’m enjoying a brief respite from the rain.  The sun came out early this afternoon and although clouds  moved in, the sky is clearing again and tomorrow is supposed to be similar weather to today.... periods of sun and clouds with temperatures about the same, easing into the 60's.  Balmy by New England standards and a good day to tend to the roses on the patio.  More rain is expected on Thursday evening and continuing overnight.

The current prediction is for another 1.5-2 inches or more over the next week and potentially as much as 3-6 total additional inches before the end of this month.  Even more promising (in terms of the drought) is that the increased rate of precipitation is expected to continue through May with the mountain snow pack continuing to accumulate and reservoirs also beginning to refill as well.   

One local reservoir has shown a dramatic improvement in just the past couple of months. 

Folsom Lake lies in the path of the storms that have been moving through our area and heading east to the mountains and as a result the water level there is now at 63% of its historical, average capacity, a dramatic improvement since the water level dropped to a mind-boggling 14 percent of capacity in November.  This reservoir, which is situated about 25 miles northeast of Sacramento has been depleted not just by drought but by pumping as well into the Sacramento River which was necessary to help maintain the delicate balance needed for the Chinook salmon to be able to spawn. 

 

References:

Rainfall amounts and averages courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at  www.noaa.gov


Reservoir Capacity Diagram and Map courtesy of http://cdec.water.ca.gov/cdecapp/resapp/getResGraphsMain.action

Folsom Lake: http://www.sacbee.com/news/state/california/water-and-drought/article44927409.html

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Our Blooming Patio - Through the Macro Lens

A blooming bacopa is intertwined with a calibrachoa.
The calendar may say January 1st but our window boxes are still in bloom.  I went out with my macro lens to study the beautiful blooms we've been enjoying over the past few weeks.

This past summer we planted ornamental trailing bacopa  for the first time. Chaenostoma cordatum, (not to be confused with the aquatic Bacopa monnieri that it closely resembles), is grown as an annual in cooler climates but is perennial where we live in USDA Hardiness Zone 9b.

We bought these plants by mistake when we were shopping for calibrachoa.  The bacopas were intermingled with the calibrachoas  on a display at the nursery.  We were choosing a variety of colors but neither of us was paying any attention to the tags (or to the plants themselves). 

Bacopas have smaller, more heart-shaped, textured leaves with serrated edges.  The blossoms have 5 distinct petals and are much smaller than the calibrachoas.

The calibrachoa is related to the pansy and some varieties have blooms that are so heavily scalloped, they almost resemble individual petals. The leaves are larger, smooth, and oblong. When you really look at them closely, there is no mistaking one for the other.  But we were looking only at the color and the distinct differences didn't even register in my mind until we got home and I was laying them out to plant them in the window boxes.

Although we acquire these plants inadvertently, this was definitely our happy accident this past gardening season.  This creeping perennial has out-performed most of the "recommended" plants for this climate.  It thrived in the summer's dry heat, never wilted even when the window boxes dried out, and it has continued to bloom in the cool winter temperatures.  Other than an occasional "haircut" to neaten the long trailing stems and encourage re-blooming, this is as low maintenance as a window box plant can get.

Amazingly, one of our calibrachoas has survived the growing season.  Although calibrachoa is also a perennial, it is considered "weak" and most people treat them as annuals in our area.  The bushy growth trailing from the window box is primarily from the no longer blooming calibrachoa.  I'm anxious to see if it will resume blooming in the spring.  All of the remaining blossoms belong to the shorter, sturdier bacopa.

When the blooms are first open, they are a deep lavender. They fade to nearly white as they age.
Young blossoms are deep lavender with an orange throat.  The color of the petals and throat fade over several days before the blooms eventually dry and fall off.

Bacopa is reportedly easily grown from cuttings and I may try to root some of the heavy, lengthy growth from the three plants that I currently have.  They are available in pale blue/lavender variety that we have as well as white.  I will be scouting the nursery in the spring for some of the white ones as well as a few more brightly colored calibrachoa.  That was a winning combination in our window boxes this year.

Bacopa (blooming) intermingled with calibrachoa.
Early in November, we planted some additional pansies to replace most of the annuals that faded during September and October. Two months later, they continue to bloom and provide bright pops of color across the window ledge.

The burgundy, rose and purple have been all-stars, blooming enthusiastically.  The blossoms have been large as well, despite the cool night time temperatures. 

 

The orange and yellow ones seem to have been more sensitive to the cooler temperatures.  The blooms are smaller and less prolific. But they continue to send up new buds.

 

My favorite is the periwinkle blue.  The variety packs that we planted contained just one but it has not disappointed.  I just picked off the last of the spent blooms and it has several buds that will be opening again soon.


One of the big surprises has been a snapdragon that simply refuses to quit.  This upright bloomer has become lazy over the winter and has taken on a trailing habit but that has done nothing to discourage it from blooming.  Snapdragons are cold season annuals and we originally planted two flats of them early last spring.  Most of them faded during the heat of the summer but this one remaining pink one got it's second wind when the fall temperatures returned.

This snapdragon has been blooming non-stop and is still sending out new shoots and buds.

In July, this pink snapdragon was the only remaining one of the cold weather spring plants we had planted in early spring to still be blooming and thriving.  We replaced the leggy pansies and wilted snapdragons with zinnias and calibrachoas.

We planted some miniature white chrysanthemums this fall and they continue to provide a pop of white here and there, a lovely contrast to the brightly colored pansies and snapdragons.


Our Meyer lemon also seems to have its calendar topsy-turvy.  I recently posted about it HERE but I couldn't resist getting a few more photographs, especially when I saw that some of the blooms had given way to tiny little lemons.  We will be having yet another crop in the next several months.

 
 

By the end of January it will be time to prune the roses and get them started on their next blooming season.  Having something in bloom in our container garden year round has been one of my guilty pleasures since moving to a Mediterranean climate.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Welcome, 2016

To our family, friends, and devoted blog followers:  
we wish you a magnificent year ahead. 

May 2016 bring health, happiness, and prosperity to you all.


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Winter Comes to the North Bay

You know it's Fall when the grape vines change from green to gold.
As a native New Englander and life-long Yankee, I'm used to seasons marked by dramatic changes in both weather and landscape.  Not so where we live now in the Napa Valley area of the North Bay.  The area is famous for its Mediterranean climate, perfect growing the grapes that make this the countries most famous wine growing region.  

Spring, Summer, and Fall the weather is so stable, except for the occasional hot summer days that push into the 90's, the average daytime temperature is in the 70's to low 80's and it quickly drops into the 60's once the sun sets in the evening. Humidity is rare, as is rain.
 
On December 9th, this tree still had plenty of green leaves.
Since the Fall temperatures both last year and this year were unseasonably warm, the only way I could tell it was Fall (except for checking the calendar) was when the luscious green foliage in the vineyards changed to burnt orange and gold.

The glorious red and orange colors of New England are rare here, although sugar maples and other trees that provide brilliant fall colors have found their way to nurseries here and do pop up here and there.

Still, while deciduous trees do turn color and shed their leaves, the prevailing color here is gold with occasional pops of orange.

Late into November, this tree was still mostly green.  It finally dropped its leaves just before Christmas.

I love the orange colors on some of the trees.  When the sun is shining, it almost seems as though the trees are on fire!

 

The other striking difference between New England and the Napa Valley is that while things are turning brown in the Northeast's winter landscape, the rains turn the hills green as fresh new growth replaces the brown grass and brush that gradually dried out and went dormant over the dry summer.

Looking out at the hills behind our apartment, the golden swaths of grapevines in the vineyards contrast with the fresh grass in the bright green fields and pastureland.

The hills behind our apartment...  starting to green up with the recent rain.

 
The rains gradually increase through the Fall  but Winter is the rainy season and we get roughly 85% of the annual 20'1/2 inches of average rainfall between November and March.  Both rainwater and melting snow from the snow packs in the mountains refill the aquifers and provide the groundwater used for irrigation during the growing season.

For the last four years, the winter rain has been abysmally low  resulting in a lengthy and worrisome drought.  Last year was exceedingly dry but the December 2014 rainfall at 11.03 inches (almost 3 times our usual December rainfall) helped to avert disaster when the January rains, usually the highest amount of rainfall for the year, simply never came.

But we are off to a better start this year.  Ordinarily, we get about 2.5 inches of rain in November and 3.8 inches of rain in December.  So far this winter, we have received a decent amount of rain: almost 2 inches for November and a respectable 2.8 inches to date this month.

But even better for the long term outlook is that many of the recent storms skidded past us, leaving a scant half inch or less of rain behind and instead carrying the water inland where it was deposited in the form of snow in the mountains.

The Sierra Nevadas now boast a 10 foot snow pack, double what is usually accumulated this early in the season.  In fact, ski resorts opened weeks ahead of schedule with natural, not man-made snow.   With a strong  el nino predicted to give us an exceptional amount of rain over the next two months, we may reach our annual average and make up some of the deficit of the previous three years.  And if the snow pack in the mountains continues to benefit from Mother Nature's munificence, we may be in good shape when the rains roll out and April rolls in.

But I'm still having some trouble getting used to "Winter" in the valley, where Christmas lights are draped over a blooming lemon tree and snake through window boxes full of blooming annuals that would have long since perished in the hard New England frosts.

The lemons are ripe and the lemon tree is in full bloom, as are the snapdragons in the window box.
The coleus were pulled two weeks ago after they became leggy and went to seed (neglect on my part) and were replaced with pansies which thrive in the cooler temperatures.  But the calibrachoa is thriving and still has a couple of blossoms.  
Chanukah, 2015 with a Boston Fern thriving outdoors -- not in Boston!
Chanukah lights weaving through blooming annuals and the lemon tree.



Watching the storms move in across the hills and up from San Pablo Bay is fascinating.  In early November, I tuned into the mid-day news one day and heard that we would be having severe weather by 2 PM.

Outside, the sky was bright blue, the sun was shining, and the temperature was a balmy 66 degrees. 

I waited patiently but the promised rain didn't materialize and so just shy of 4 PM I got ready to walk the dogs over to the park where we usually get our afternoon exercise.  As I was getting a sweater and leashes, I heard what sounded like thunder claps and then the living room suddenly became dark.

When I looked out, I was shocked to see a fast-moving storm had blown in.  Lightening joined the thunder and torrential rain broke through the clouds and gave way to pelting hail.  The storm barely lasted an hour but dropped just over a half inch of new rain on the sun parched earth. It moved out as quickly as it moved in and when the sun finally poked back through the clouds, the temperature was a brisk 51 degrees F.

 
The storm moved in quickly and the blue sky disappeared under the roiling gray clouds.
This was the angriest cloud and the backdrop for much of the lightening.
Just as quickly as the clouds rolled in, they blew out and to the east.
 
 
 

We are finally registering the typical winter temperatures usually seen in this climate for this time of year.  Mid to high 30's into the low 40's at night, high 50's into the low 60's during the day.  We've had rain on and off throughout the last 8 weeks but rarely more than several hours at a time. Many of those days, it rained heavily overnight but the sun rose to clear skies.

We close out 2015 with blue skies, brisk temperatures in the mid-50's, and the prospect of generous rainfall over the next 8 weeks from an enthusiastic el nino.  That would indeed be a Happy New Year.