A dry rainy season has fire officials readying for a busy fire season

This year's wet season only narrowly missed beating 1972 and 1984 for the driest year on record

Special to The TribuneApril 27, 2013 

Wild land fire crews work a fire along the Central Coast earlier this year.

JOHN LINDSEY

January through April in San Luis Obispo will go down as the third driest such period on record at Cal Poly (home of climatology for the city) since 1870 when weather observations started. 

The driest January-to-April on record occurred in 1972, when only 2.8 inches of rain fell. The next driest was 1984, when 3 inches of precipitation was recorded. So far this year, only a meager 3.3 inches of rain has fallen from the sky.  Historically, about 14.5 inches of rain is expected.

Paso Robles Airport, like the rest of the state, is well below normal for this time of year.  It only recorded 1.5 inches of rain during the January-to-April period, or about 18 percent of normal.  

According to Jan Null of Golden Gate Weather Services, San Francisco will have a January through April total of just 3.3 inches, the driest since records began in 1850.  However, when we look at the more important rainfall season, San Francisco is at 16.4 inches, which ranks it the 91st driest out of 164 seasons.

This circumstance of above normal rainfall during November and December, followed by one of the driest January through April periods in San Luis Obispo County’s history has become a major issue for our dedicated firefighters.

Let me explain. The early-season rains produced hefty amounts of vegetation. But the late season’s paltry rainfall combined with stronger than average winds—on April 8th northwesterly wind gusts reached 62-mph at Diablo Canyon—have already turned many of our county’s emerald green hills to hues of golden brown.

To make matters more concerning, Robert Lewin, Cal Fire chief for San Luis Obispo County, said that vegetation moisture level surveys in San Luis Obispo County and throughout the state are indicating some of the lowest moisture content of potential fuels—vegetation—for this time of the year.  “All these conditions are coming together to make this year an especially difficult one for our firefighters throughout the state.”  Chief Lewin said. “When we get dry windy weather under these drought conditions, it will push us into critical fire conditions early. We may be in for a long fire season.”

Last week Cal Fire, the San Luis Obispo County Air Pollution Control District (APCD), the National Weather Service (NWS) and Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) came together to discuss this summer’s weather and fire season at Cal Fire’s South Bay Training Center in Los Osos.

Eric Boldt, Warning Coordination Meteorologist with NWS in Oxnard, told us that the U.S. Climate Prediction Center is predicting above normal temperatures throughout much of the United States -- including California and the Central Coast -- during May, June and July.  Eric and Mark Jackson, the meteorologist in charge of the Oxnard office, highlighted all the resources on weather available on their website www.wrh.noaa.gov/lox/.

According to Gary Arcemont, air quality specialist/meteorologist with the APCD, “The APCD will continue to work closely with Cal Fires and local fire protection agencies to help coordinate fire protection efforts.”

Ed McCarthy, lead meteorologist with PG&E provided a link (www.pge.com/about/edusafety/dcpp/index.jsp) to allow firefighters, meteorologists and the public to view wind data from PG&E’s meteorological towers throughout San Luis Obispo. This and other weather stations are critical in fighting fires and keeping firefighters and the public safe.  

Chief Lewin stated that Cal Fire/San Luis Obispo County Fire will increase staffing of fire engines and the Paso Robles Air Attack Base for this fire season. Residents are encouraged to be vigilant and avoid activities that could spark unwanted fires, such as mowing dry vegetation during warm, dry or windy weather. Chief Lewin said, “Our men and women are prepared for fire season. We now need the residents to make sure they are.” 

To help prepare for this upcoming fire season, Cal Fire has an informative website that can be viewed at http://calfire.ca.gov/fire_prevention/fire_prevention.php.

John Lindsey’s column is special to The Tribune. He is vice president of the Point San Luis Lighthouse Keepers. He is a media relations representative for PG&E and a longtime local meteorologist. If you have a question, send him an email at pgeweather@pge.com.

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