Weather Watch

Prolific precipitation sure to produce ‘intense’ wildflower season

Wildflower blooms seen from the Point Buchon Trail.
Wildflower blooms seen from the Point Buchon Trail. Special to The Tribune

The intense storm that slammed into the Central Coast on Friday produced some eye-popping wind and rain numbers, including a 71 mph southeasterly gust at the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant’s meteorological tower and nearly 5 inches of precipitation in the Santa Ynez Valley.

The atmosphere seems to be locked in a wet pattern as the Pacific jet stream continues to steer dynamic storm systems that interact with significant surges of subtropical moisture from the Pacific Ocean toward California.

This condition has produced well above-average rainfall totals. Paso Robles Municipal Airport has recorded nearly 14 inches this year, or 153 percent of average. Cal Poly has 30 inches, and SLOweather.com is at 32 inches, both at nearly 200 percent of average rainfall for this time of the year. Diablo Canyon is now at 26 inches, the most since the 2010 rain season.

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Currently, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center is advertising equal chances of above- or below-average temperatures and precipitation over the next three months. However, the long-range Navy numerical models are indicating that wet and above-normal temperatures will continue into March.

Above-normal rainfall this winter may have put a damper on outdoor activities. However, this season’s persistent rains may reward us with a spectacular bloom of wildflowers. We have reached the amount of rainfall needed to germinate many of the annual wildflowers, but the intensity of the bloom will be dependent on early cold spells, warming periods and upcoming storms.

“Areas of the Central Coast are starting to see early blooming activity,” said Kelly Kephart, PG&E’s terrestrial biologist, “and the wildflower displays will become more intense as we head toward the peak of bloom along the coast in mid- to late March.”

In years past and from afar, the wildflower displays resembled landscapes that artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude, known for large outdoor installations, would create if they were to wrap our hillsides with intense yellow and orange hues along with purple and blue pigments. I’ve always felt blessed to see these remarkable, yet fleeting, displays of flowers before the stronger winds and the longer days of late spring turn them into sun-baked grasslands.

There are many locations to see wildflowers throughout San Luis Obispo County. My favorites are at the Carrizo Plain National Monument, Shell Creek Road along Highway 58 and the Point Buchon Trail near Montaña de Oro State Park.

The Point Buchon trailhead is accessed through the south end of the park and is open Thursday through Monday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. To learn more about the trail, visit www.pge.com/trails.

“This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Point Buchon Trail, and I can’t imagine a better way for the public to celebrate than taking in the flowers on the coastal terrace,” Kephart said.

Common species that bloom en masse on the coastal terrace include fiddleneck, lupine, poppies and goldfields.

The trail straddles the coastline where the Blanchard family runs an organic, sustainable ranch on the north end of the property that is home to Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. For many years, Bob and Terri Blanchard have been implementing a sustainable ranching practice known as rotational grazing, or managed grazing. Managed grazing requires dividing lands into smaller fenced spaces, or paddocks.

Ranchers graze cows in each of the coastal paddocks for one to two weeks, then the cows are rotated to a new paddock.

This method of grazing not only sustains a healthy ecological condition of the ranch but improves it by allowing land to rest and vegetation to recover. This practice has also produced some of the most beautiful wildflower displays that I have seen.

To get the latest news about wildflower blooms along the Central Coast and other parts of California, you can visit the Theodore Payne Foundation website at www.theodorepayne.org/education/wildflower-hotline.

John Lindsey’s column is special to The Tribune. He is PG&E’s Diablo Canyon marine meteorologist and a media relations representative. Email him at pgeweather@pge.com or follow him on Twitter: @PGE_John.

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