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Looking For An Ark

Quick Weather Report

OK, think fast, I’m gonna throw some numbers at you.

Two weeks ago on Dec. 27, our season rain total stood at 16.95 inches which was 9 inches below the historical average for that date.

A fortnight later, on Tuesday, Jan. 11 as I write this column, our season-to-date total is 36.20 inches, which is 5.07 inches above the historical norm 31.13 inches. Our annual historical rainfall is nearly 67 inches.

What happened?

Well, it’s rained 14 out of the last 15 days, registering 19.25 inches of precipitation. 

To put this in perspective, 2 years ago during the worst drought in California’s history, Laytonville received only 29 inches of rain. Amazingly, even with that record low, our Long Valley aquifer recharged itself. And already here we are in early January, and we’ve already surpassed that measly 29 inches by 7 inches. From November through March, historically each month averages 10-plus inches of rain. Our rain year runs from July 1 to June 30.

I’d say we’re in pretty good shape compared to recent times.

By the way, I just read a CapRadio report that pointed out it’s been years since California has seen a series of storms like those hitting the state now. They’ve caused evacuations, power outages and flooding, all of which are a hazard to people in impacted areas. 

“In terms of overall flood risk, one atmospheric river is typically not enough in order to drive severe concerns,” said Paul Ullrich, a professor of Regional and Global Climate Modeling at UC Davis. 

But multiple storms in a row is a different story, he said. 

“When you have these sequential atmospheric river events, then you really have to be worried about reservoirs overtopping, soil saturation and other drivers of widespread flood damage,” Ullrich said.

This dump of precipitation might also have positive impacts on California’s water supply. Ullrich said he remembers a series of atmospheric river events that hit California in 2016 and 2017 and helped “pull us out of that major drought that we had at the time.” 

“Probably, we’re going to see that again this year,” he said. 

But although this rash of storms could help the state’s water supply ahead of the summer, researchers say it also reveals weaknesses in the state’s flood-prevention infrastructure and points to more severe weather to come.

During the fall of 2022, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) predicted California would have a relatively dry winter — a prediction that now, of course, has proven incorrect. 

However, in my annual Fall forecast I predicted that this winter we would most likely experience something closer to historical weather and rainfall patterns. 

Why was my forecast more accurate than NOAA’s?

Purely a combination of luck and my reliance on decades of local weather records. Local weather data is, I believe, critical to understanding what may be in store for us from Madre Nature. 

Mendocino County has over 300 micro climates, all with distinguishing weather patterns. 

For example, as the crow flies it is 8 miles from Laytonville to Branscomb in southwest direction and 13 miles over the road. Yet, on average Branscomb’s precipitation exceeds Laytonville’s by approximately 20 inches, annually.

We have micro climates separated by less than a mile in Mendocino County, each with its own unique meteorological conditions.

Ullrich said California’s winters are notoriously hard to predict because of the state’s extreme and variable weather. 

However, Ullrich added that the difference between a “dry” and “wet” winter can be very slight in California. 

“California is very unique in that so much of its precipitation for the year comes on so few days,” he said. “As a consequence, if you take some of those days away, if you turn them from wet days to dry days, suddenly it changes the whole total annual precipitation received by the state.” 

Ullrich said the level of precipitation coming from this storm isn’t unprecedented, for the most part. Overall levels of annual precipitation in Northern California have stayed fairly consistent. 

But a warming climate has encouraged more extreme weather events, he said. Warmer temperatures mean the capacity for more water vapor held in the air, which can lead to more precipitation all at once.

“What we are generally seeing is that some of the more extreme events are becoming more common,” he said. “What used to be a 1-in-100 year event is now becoming a 1-in-20 year event, or even more frequent than that.” 

Trump CFO Gets Wrist Slapped With Feather

According to Courthouse News, the Trump Organization's longtime chief financial officer was handed a prison sentence Tuesday, Jan. 10, five months after he pleaded guilty in a bid to play off pervasive payroll fraud within the namesake company of former President Donald Trump as a side effect of only his own individual greed.

Allen Weisselberg, 75, negotiated the deal carrying a five-month sentence in exchange for his agreement to testify against his former employer. He also faces five years of probation and must repay nearly $2 million in taxes.

Anticipating his immediate remand to the Rikers Island jail complex New York City, Weisselberg attended his. sentencing hearing at Manhattan Supreme Court in casual street attire: a gray North Face zip-up fleece, white T-shirt, blue jeans and sneakers.

Nicholas Gravante, an attorney for Weisselberg, has said he anticipates Weisselberg will serve just 100 days of his sentence after a reduction for good behavior.

Begrudgingly ordering the agreed-upon sentence of five months, Judge Juan Manuel Merchan noted: "I’m not going to deviate although I believe that a stiffer sentence would appropriate given the evidence."

Merchan appeared irritated when Gravante pushed him to impose an even lighter sentence or for the second term of Weisselberg's incarceration to be served under house arrest. 

"Having presided over the trial [of the Trump Organization], and having heard the testimony and seen the evidence," Judge Merchan concluded that "the entire case was driven by greed."

Merchan took specific ire with one act of the fraud in which Weisselberg directed the Trump Organization's controller, Jeffrey McConney, set his wife up with a onetime $6,000 payroll check for a no-show job at the company so she could qualify for Social Security benefits.

“It was driven purely by greed. Pure and simple," Judge Merchan said, finding the no-show job especially loathsome "at a time when so many Americans work so hard so they may one day be able to benefit from Social Security."

All well and good, Judge, but you had the power to sentence this crook to a much stiffer sentence, so why didn’t you do it?

Instead of using a feather, why didn’t you at least slap his wrist with a yardstick like my kindergarten teacher mother would do when my brother and I would break her laws. She actually whacked us on the butts with her yardstick, but you know what I mean.

Down On The Farm

Here’s this week’s report from the California Farm Bureau.

Storms, snowpack spur optimism for ample water supply for farmers

A year ago, California’s first snowpack survey of the year revealed deep snow measuring 160% of average. Then came the driest January, February and March in more than 100 years. This year the snowpack measured 174% of average on Jan. 3—and ensuing storms dumped another 10 feet of snow in parts of the Sierra Nevada. At last, that may presage a healthy water year for agriculture. A state climatologist says the string of atmospheric storms signals that California may be moving from a dry La Niña pattern to a wet ElNiño phenomenon. 

Agricultural groups say “Waters of U.S.” law creates confusion, burdens farmers

Farm groups say they fear the Environmental Protection Agency’s new “Waters of the United States” rule will create confusion and cause disruptions to routine agricultural activities. The rule expands the federal government’s reach, allowing regulation of most any low spot on a farmer’s field where water stands or channels. Critics say that may expose farmers to unknowing violations of the law and require permits for ordinary activities such as plowing, planting or fence building. Agricultural groups say the law could result in costly legal fees for farmers.

Farmers, ranchers challenged by rule banning older trucks

Large trucks and buses made before 2010 are now prohibited from operating in California, under a California Air Resources Board rule that took effect Jan. 1. Until this year, an agricultural exemption had allowed pre-2010 big rigs to run up to 10,000 miles a year. Now farmers and ranchers with non-compliant vehicles must abide by a 1,000-mile limit. The market is already saturated with older vehicles retaining little value, and many business owners face steep financial costs to replace them. 

(Jim Shields is the Mendocino County Observer’s editor and publisher,, the long-time district manager of the Laytonville County Water District, and is also chairman of the Laytonville Area Municipal Advisory Council. Listen to his radio program “This and That” every Saturday at 12 noon on KPFN 105.1 FM, also streamed live:

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