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"You see increased outdoor water use during a heat wave, and so now is the time to remind folks the drought is still on. We really need to buckle down and resist the urge to over-water unnecessarily," Sherwood said.

The last few weeks have seen afternoon temperatures see-saw between extra-warm and very cool.

The current spell of hot weather started Monday with several local areas peaking in the low 90s.

Tuesday was a scorcher, with Santa Rosa and surrounding areas reaching into the low to mid-90s. Record high temperatures came close to being broken. Santa Rosa's high Tuesday was 94 at around 3 p.m. The record was 97 degrees set in 1976.

Today's forecast high in Santa Rosa, 96 degrees, would bust the record of 95 set in 1970. Average for both days is 74.

The heat spike is due to a massive high pressure system sitting over an area stretching from Alaska to Southern California and stretching east toward the Rockies, said Tony Zartman, senior meteorologist with AccuWeather.

Thursday, the pressure system should start to break down. By Friday temperatures should dip closer to normal ranges, in the upper 70s and low 80s.

The heat didn't seem to faze people who were out and about Tuesday. Many students walking home along Sonoma Avenue from Herbert Slater Middle School were wearing sweatshirts and long sleeves.

A few families brought their children to the water's edge at Howarth Park to feed the ducks and geese and take a cool dip.

"I didn't think it was going to be this hot," said Tanya Gonzalez, 25, of Sonoma who was holding her 8-month-old baby girl Hazel as Luis, her 3-year-old, was frolicking in the water. "I want to go, but he doesn't want to leave."

Nearby, Rick Olmstead, 58, was playing a round of tennis with Asher Nathan, 68, both of Santa Rosa. They were the only two players on the public courts.

"It's not that hot yet," said Nathan, who rode his bicycle from his house near Piner Road to the courts. "A few more degrees and that will be too hot."

Such heat doesn't play well with California's ongoing drought.

Rainfall totals statewide fell far short of healthy levels. Snowfall in the Sierra Nevada this year was but a fraction of what is needed for runoff to fill state reservoirs.

Lake Sonoma, the North Bay's largest reservoir, is about 75 percent of water supply capacity and Lake Mendocino is critically low at just 45 percent.

This late in the year, Santa Rosa has little reasonable opportunity to get more measurable rain. In an average May, the city sees about 1.28 inches of rainfall.

In a typical year, the city gets 32.2 inches in a rain season from July 1 to June 30. So far this rain season, it has had 14.57 inches.

A bit of moisture remains in the fading green grasses covering the region's rolling hillsides. But this round of heat will most likely be the end of that.

"Everything under that green fuel is dead or down," said Scott Bravo, Cal Fire spokesman.

"It is very early for us to be having the conditions that we're having in the Bay Area, let alone in the whole state," Bravo said.

The result has meant early steps on several fronts for Cal Fire, the state firefighting agency.

The fire season officially opened early, and seasonal firefighters, typically hired just prior to summertime, have already been on the books for months. More continue to be hired ahead of a normal year, including a new group moving into local fire stations early next week.

Pilots and crew for a Cal Fire air attack spotter plane and a tanker plane also went on duty Monday at Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport, again, weeks earlier than most years.

Cal Fire officials point to the high number of fires that have burned through the winter as explanation for the early steps. Wildland fires in the state have been burning at double the average number and size.

Bravo reiterated the importance of fire safety and prevention. While high weeds and grasses need to be mowed, that work should be done before it gets hot -- "preferably before

10 a.m." -- to minimize the risk of mowers sparking fire, he said.

Other early reactions include a ban on campfires outside of developed campgrounds on Bureau of Land Management land in Lake, Mendocino, Sonoma, Napa, Yolo, Colusa, Glenn and Solano counties.

The high critical fire concerns coincide with anticipated moves to regulate critically low stream levels in the state.

The California State Water Resources Control Board this month is expected to issue a rare ruling that large water users -- such as vineyard owners and farmers -- in several key areas of the state must curtail how much water they take from rivers.

One area expected to be included in the ruling is the upper Russian River, north of Healdsburg into Mendocino County.

Looking months ahead, there is a growing consensus among weather-watchers, however, that this fall might bring the reappearance of a strong El Ni? weather pattern.

Such patterns tend to mean warmer temperatures in the summer and winter and more rain.

But whether the pattern will continue to build, or whether it will peter out -- as happened in 2012 -- remains unknown, Swain said. "We'll know more in a month or so."

Staff Writer Elizabeth M. Cosin contributed to this report.

You can reach Staff WriterRandi Rossmann at 521-5412 or randi.rossmann@ pressdemocrat.com.

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