The Old Farmer must be seriously reassessing his position. His 2014 Almanac, if I read it right, called for heavy rains in January, up to and perhaps including this very day.
So how can we believe him when he tells us that we will have heavy rains in February?
Now that the drought is official, we really need to talk about the weather. Not the current weather, of course. There are plenty of people doing that already. We need to talk about times past, other weathers, other years. It might be a comfort to know that the Old Farmer isn't the first to be fooled.
Robert Thompson, the 19th century's chief Sonoma County booster and its first historian, wrote that "The season of rain commences in October and ends in May, though it sometimes rains in June. It is rare that it rains longer than two or three days at a time. And the intervals between rains vary from a few days to a month or six weeks. Californians consider the winter the most pleasant part of the year."
Californians have never been realistic about weather. Like Thompson, we seem to be more Chamber of Commerce than Weather Bureau.
I guess the main problem with Thompson's weather report -#8212; in which he ascribes February as being "a growing month ... as pleasant as May" is that he just wasn't here long enough.
The Thompson brothers (his brother was the long-time editor of the Sonoma Democrat) rolled into Sonoma County from Virginia in the mid-1850s. If he had hung around for the February of 1986, he would have seen roofs blow off and the barns blow down and the Russian River rise so high in Guerneville that people had to be helicoptered out from the top of the town's only hill. "Pleasant as May" indeed! He also missed the January and February of 1975 when it rained 40 days and 40 nights, a winter of Biblical proportions.
Some of us make the same mistake, believing, as we tend to do, that history begins with our own earliest memories. We talk as if this drought, just declared official by Gov. Jerry Brown, is the first time California has dried up around us. And we like to blame it all on overpopulation.
But think about this. In the 1830s and '40s, when there was a handful of Californios and a very few Russians along with the Native Americans, living lightly on the land, there was a killer drought.
It was no Chamber of Commerce California that Lt. Charles Wilkes found when he paid an exploratory visit, including the Mexican pueblo of Sonoma, in 1841.
Lt. Wilkes, a naval officer commissioned by the U.S. government to check out the Pacific Coast, wrote in his report that there was no land suitable for agriculture anywhere around Sonoma and, furthermore, the Sacramento Valley was "a barren wasteland." He had come in a drought year.
So had James Bidwell, who was in the first wagon train to cross the Sierra into California. Near starvation after 24 weeks of hard traveling, they abandoned their wagons on Sonora Pass and ate their mules. Bidwell recorded all this in his diary. In November of 1841, he wrote, when they came down from the mountains to John Marsh's ranch at the foot of Mt. Diablo, they found: "The country was brown and parched ... wheat, beans, everything had failed. Cattle were almost starving for grass and the people, except perhaps for a few of the best families, were without bread, and were eating chiefly meat, and that often of a very poor quality. ... It had been one of the driest years ever known in California."