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Where’s winter? Warm weather draws outdoor enthusiasts

Winter this year has turned into a season where outdoor activity has taken a noticeable jump, the result of long-term warm weather creating conditions ideal for doing things more often associated with the summertime.
Winter this year has turned into a season where outdoor activity has taken a noticeable jump, the result of long-term warm weather creating conditions ideal for doing things more often associated with the summertime. Sacramento Bee file

Socked-in trails, soggy terrain and a lingering chill are typical hallmarks of the late-winter, early-spring outdoors season in Northern California. Campgrounds remain quiet, waterways stay mostly empty of boats and fishermen, and sports stores still stock thermal wear and skis.

But this year, it’s a different story.

Unseasonably warm weather and dry skies accompanying California’s historic drought have kept the area’s camping, boating and biking industries busy through months that typically come and go with far less traffic.

Over the weekend, as temperatures reached into the upper 70s along the Sacramento River, the recreational scene was downright summery: Campers pitched tents and hikers traversed trails, while boaters, water-skiers and wakeboarders took to the river.

“We haven’t had a winter, really,” said Kevin Chavier, owner and manager of Vieira’s Resort, which offers camping, cabins, beaches, fishing, boating and RV docks in the Delta near Isleton. “We’ve been busy all year. Nonstop.”

It’s the warmest winter that Chavier said he’s seen in more than 20 years.

“The weather’s definitely not helping as far as the drought goes,” he said. “It’s been too warm, not enough rain. ... But it’s been good to have the business.”

Temperatures will remain uncharacteristically high in the Sacramento region to start the week, according to the National Weather Service, topping out in the mid-70s.

A chance of rain Tuesday night into Wednesday night could cool things down with clouds and some light precipitation, but forecasters don’t predict much of a showing. A meager 0.04 inches may fall over the course of 24 hours in Sacramento, forecaster Jason Clapp said. In the mountains, less than a half inch of snow is expected.

The Sacramento area’s average rainfall for 2015 is below normal by more than 5 inches – the weather service reports 2.84 inches since Jan. 1, well below the average 7.89 inches for the same period in a typical year, Clapp said.

“We’re still expecting to see some more rain in the next month or so,” Clapp said. “But even if we hit average, it’s not going to mean much for the drought. We’re going to need well above average rainfall for the next few years to start whittling away at any of that.”

The lack of typical rainy weather has meant an early spring for some retailers.

Rob Henderson, general manager of the REI store in Sacramento, said the outdoors outfitter began seeing customers coming in for bikes, shorts, water gear and paddle boards several months ahead of schedule. The store’s snowshoeing classes, usually among the store’s most popular, were being passed over for canoeing and kayaking lessons.

“Normally, we’d be running our snowshoe classes from January clear through March, and we wouldn’t be seeing any interest in kayaking, cycling, paddleboarding or any of it until much later,” Henderson said. “Even for California, this is an early transition. The snowshoe classes just dried up, if you will.”

Henderson said customers began moving away from winter apparel and “clamoring for bikes and boats” as early as mid-January.

The warm weather has helped draw visitors to the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, according to state park officials at Brannan Island State Recreation Area.

Too early for required reservations for camping, sites are taken on a first-come, first-serve basis, said camp host Debbie Sode. This weekend, she said, Brannan Island was swamped.

“Every boater in the area stopped by, it seems,” Sode said. “It’s been a crazy winter.”

Call The Bee’s Marissa Lang at (916) 321-1038. Follow her on Twitter at @Marissa_Jae.

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