59°
Sunny
FRI
 69°
 44°
SAT
 69°
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SUN
 75°
 42°
MON
 66°
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TUE
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Struggling with one of the driest years on record

  • Dairy farmer Don DeBernardi spreads rye grass seed at his property on the Sonoma- Marin county line Monday. During a normal year, the grass would be several inches deep. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat)

Rex Williams' sheep normally are munching green grass in early December. But this year, one of the driest on record, the land he leases remains mostly brown.

“We planted our winter crop into dust, dry ground,” Williams said. Hardly any grass germinated, so Williams has been forced to feed hay to his sheep months earlier than normal.

“It's scary; we've never been in a situation like this before,” said Williams, who's been ranching about 23 years. “We've always had some grass to go to.”

Sonoma County's Dry Weather

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Facing these pressures, William and his wife expect they may have to reduce their herd of 400 ewes by as much as a third. They've already started selling off some of the weaker sheep.

The Williams aren't alone — ranchers around Sonoma County are grappling with the added cost of feeding their animals more hay earlier in the year because of the arid conditions and lack of grass. Some are watching their ponds dry up and wondering if they'll have to pay to truck in water for their animals to drink. All are hoping December rains will bring them some relief.

Normally, November dumps about 4 inches of rain on the Santa Rosa area, but this year, just 1.08 inches fell, according to the National Weather Service. It was enough to cause some grass to start sprouting on Sonoma County's hillsides, but farmers say that could change if December remains dry.

December is usually one of the wettest months, bringing about 7 inches of rain to Santa Rosa. But Bob Benjamin, a forecaster with the National Weather Service, said there was no chance of significant rain in the next 10 days. He cited a 10 percent chance of rain on Tuesday and a small possibility of light showers over the weekend.

Since Jan. 1, 2013, Santa Rosa has received 8.30 inches of rainfall, compared with a historical average of 26.36 inches of rain by Dec. 3, according to Press Democrat records. The annual average is 32.22 inches of rain.

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