Growers, backyard gardeners wary of warm afternoons, lack of rain

A family takes advantage of a sunny break in the fog to feed geese near a pond in Land Park on Sunday.
A family takes advantage of a sunny break in the fog to feed geese near a pond in Land Park on Sunday. Sacramento Bee

Sacramento-area residents have been down this winter weather road before: cold, foggy mornings giving way to warmer-than-usual afternoons … and no rain.

Yes, there are consequences.

“It’s not unprecedented to have extended periods of temperatures in the 60s, the upper 60s and low 70s this time of year,” said Chuck Ingels, the UC Cooperative Extension horticulture adviser for Sacramento County. “It’s definitely a cause for concern when that happens. Trees can begin to respond by pushing their buds and starting to flower.”

The problem with that, Ingels noted, is that it’s only January, and there’s still a chance that heavy frost and freezing conditions could crop up in February.

“Sometimes, we’ll see a pretty serious frost … which is deadly on flowers and fruit. For commercial growers, they could be losing fruit and the economic hit that goes with that.”

The potential fiscal impact of prolonged warm winter temperatures is substantial.

Cherries and almonds rely on winter chill temperatures, for example. Almonds alone contribute about $11 billion a year to California’s gross domestic product, according a report released in December by the Almond Board of California. The board’s assessment included production of the crop itself and the processing and marketing of the nuts.

Ingels said commercial growers’ concerns go beyond the latest round of warm winter weather. He cited long-range projections related to global warming, climate change, winter warming and a lack of prolonged winter chill.

Greg Gayton, a horticulturist who helps oversee the three Green Acres Nursery and Supply stores in the Sacramento area, says he is not yet alarmed about warm afternoon temperatures, because cool, foggy mornings are helping negate the effects of sunny post-noon hours.

And then there’s rain, or the lack of it.

With less than a week to go in the month, Sacramento is on pace to have the driest January since the first official weather observation was made on July 1, 1877. Only 0.01 of an inch of rain has fallen this month. The National Weather Service on Sunday projected a 30 percent chance of rain in the area on Tuesday, but if that wet weather bypasses Sacramento, the record dry month likely will stand. A stubborn high-pressure system has been acting as an umbrella over the Central Valley for a week.

Historically, February has occasionally been a soaking month in the region.

Gayton, for one, feels optimistic: “Maybe I’m getting old, but I think we’ll be getting some rain. I feel it coming.”

Should February turn out nearly as dry as January, experts predicted that drought worries will hit top speed in the spring. Last winter’s prolonged period of freezing temperatures and no rain contributed to drought conditions that saw jurisdictions initiate water-conservation measures. Wildfires up and down the state in 2014 also were linked to tinder-dry conditions.

Dry earth and flora would seem to lessen the potential impact of mosquitoes and their related problems, such as West Nile virus. But that’s not the case.

“Contrary to popular belief, when there is a drought, there is more virus activity,” said Luz Rodriguez, a spokeswoman with the Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito & Vector Control District.

She explained that drought affects water flow in numerous creeks and streams, which typically become stretches of stagnant water, perfect for breeding mosquitoes.

Rodriguez added that “it’s still a little bit too early to determine what kind of season we’re going to have.”

Thick fog blanketed the Sacramento area on Sunday morning, which helped keep the high temperature below 60 degrees, as opposed to highs of near 70 predicted earlier in the week.

Call The Bee’s Mark Glover, (916) 321-1184.