FAIRFIELD — Solano County’s storm-repelling force shield of high pressure is back in place and as strong as ever, with some local farmers beginning to feel the heat.
The area got a spattering of rain on the weekend. Now the rain has again disappeared during what is usually the heart of the rainy season.
“At least for the next 10 days, it is dry, dry, dry,” said Mike Pechner, a Cordelia Villages resident and owner of Golden West Meteorology.
Flooding is a common January weather-related threat. Fire is a bigger danger this year. The National Weather Service on Monday and Tuesday called a red-flag fire warnings in nearby brown, dry hills because of winds. The National Weather Service on Tuesday predicted temperatures in Fairfield could reach 72 degrees on Wednesday, compared to the normal 52 degrees.
“The ridge of high pressure is right over the top of us,” Pechner said. “In that pattern, we get the absolute warmest air.”
That’s bad news for farmers in the Montezuma Hills of eastern Solano County. They depend on the rain to grow grasses for grazing sheep and to water crops such as wheat.
“All the ranchers are thinking about how we’re going to be able to feed our animals as time goes on,” rancher Al Medvitz said.
One option is buying hay, but that costs money. Another is selling off flocks, he said.
“There’s still time to get some food out here, if we got some rain maybe in the next couple of weeks,” Medvitz said.
If the rains come at some point beyond that, the vegetation growth won’t be as strong and vigorous as is typical, he said.
“We can still get rain and it will help some, but there’s still a setback here,” Medvitz said. “It’s serious.”
County Agricultural Commissioner Jim Allan agreed. He said the forage for sheep and cattle couldn’t catch up even with late-season rains.
“We would very much welcome (rain),” Allan said. “But the situation is dire enough up there that it could start raining right now and it just wouldn’t fix it.”
Farms in other parts of the county get irrigation water from Lake Berryessa reservoir. Typically, the Solano Irrigation District delivers no water between Oct. 15 and early March, with farmers getting rain for free from storms.
Not this year. The Solano Irrigation District Board of Directors on Thursday during a special meeting voted to start water deliveries outside the irrigation season.
About six property owners representing thousands of acres of agriculture attended the meeting, Solano Irrigation District General Manager Cary Keaten said. In addition, the district received calls from 40 to 60 other farmers who wanted irrigation water.
The Solano Irrigation District will deliver water for at least two weeks, Keaten said. Then it will play things by ear and see how February shapes up for rain.
“If there’s a couple of inches in the forecast, then we’ll hold off,” Keaten said.
Allan said the wintertime irrigation, either from pumping well water or using Solano Irrigation District water from Lake Berryessa, is an unanticipated cost for farmers.
Lake Berryessa reservoir in Napa County provides water to Solano County farms and cities. Despite the dry weather, it remains at 69 percent of capacity. The massive reservoir can be slow to fill and also slow to empty.
Allan is not yet ready to submit a drought declaration for Solano County farmers to the state and federal governments. He wants to know the extent of the losses first. Every day that the rain doesn’t fall, the situation gets worse, he said.
“You can pull the trigger too soon on those things,” Allan said.
Pechner doesn’t describe this strange weather as global warming, given the cold weather that has hit much of the nation.
“This has been a brutal winter in the nation’s midsection,” Pechner said. “You could say this is global warming, but you’d never convince anybody back East that’s the case.”
Climate change is a possibility, he said. The melting of glaciers changes water temperatures and ocean temperatures influence weather, he said. But he stressed he’s not saying the prolonged dry weather actually is a result of climate change. He also pointed out that local weather records go back only to about 1850.
“Our weather records compared to how long this particular weather regime has been here is like a pimple on the back of an elephant,” Pechner said.
A large solar flare last week could result in a shift in the weather pattern by Jan. 24 or 25, Pechner said.
“I think that could open the storm door, so to speak, meaning the jet stream would be coming more toward Northern California and possibly bring us some rain,” Pechner said. “That’s the only hope at this point.”
As for the storm over the weekend, it proved to be no game-changer for the dry stretch. Pechner said he got some drizzle and sprinkles at his house.
“I wouldn’t even call it a trace,” Pechner said.
Reach Barry Eberling at 427-6929 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/beberlingdr.