From the February 2014 Battle Mountain News

Post date: Jul 7, 2014 12:08:34 AM

Fire Winter

2013 was the driest year in California History, by a large margin. On Wednesday, January  22, the fuel moisture at the top of our mountain plummeted to an unbelieveable 2%, on Friday the 24th, we woke up to a red flag warning, signifying extreme fire danger. At this point, winter 2013-2014 is the driest water year in history. What's up? The answer is in this dramatic satellite weather photo below, from the 24th of January:

Notice California to the right, Alaska at the top, and Hawaii in the lower left. Those dark blobs are winter storms, and the white streaks are thinner clouds outlining the path of the jet stream. The prominent nearly vertical streak is an “atmospheric river” transporting moisture over thousands of miles. In the fall of 2012, as in most years in memory, we were deluged by rain when an atmospheric river stretched from the tropics southeast of Hawaii straight across to central California. In stark contrast, this atmospheric river has a huge meander, taking storms from east of Hawaii to Alaska, into the Yukon, and into the central and eastern US, avoiding us completely. We have had this same weather pattern for just about a year.

Examining tree rings and lake sediment samples, climate scientists tell us that the 20th century was the dampest in California for the last 1,000 years, with even the most severe droughts lasting two or three years. Looking further back though, the record is sobering. In medieval times, the west suffered multiple droughts, lasting decades.

Faced with possibility that the burn band now in place won't be lifted until this coming December, we need to assume that we won't be able to burn our yard waste and tree debris this year. The positive side of the extremely low fuel moisture is that practically all that waste and debris is so brittle that some vigorous whacking or stamping will quickly turn it to mulch. Teen and pre-teen boys are especially effective and often eager for the task. Please be aware that by now, the dead chaparral in our area has dried to such a steely hardness that chipping it will simply destroy most chippers, so the best alternative to adolescents would be using your green yard waste containers, or hauling it to the Ben Lomond or Dimeo Lane facilities where there are industrial composters.