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In bone-dry Sonoma County, no rain expected until mid-November

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Yearning for rain?

With no significant precipitation since May, the landscape tinder dry and the largest wildfire in Sonoma County history coming under control at the end of October, residents, ranchers and firefighters might be looking to the sky for relief — but it isn’t coming soon.

Fire-driving winds have ceased, “but the question on everyone’s mind is when will it rain,” the National Weather Service said in its official report Thursday.

And the answer is that most computer models show dry days and nights for the next two weeks, and that’s not just an absence of rain but also record-low humidity that has created “crispy dry” vegetation ready to burn.

A weather balloon sent up Wednesday from the Oakland International Airport found atmospheric water vapor matching the 30-year record low level for October, said Rick Canepa, a weather service meteorologist.

It’s the result of winds blowing dry desert air from the Great Basin over the Sierra and into California, reaching all the way to the coast, he said.

Rain is also unlikely until mid-November, with a high pressure ridge diverting storms north into British Columbia, Canepa said.

“It keeps the storm track off you,” said Frank Strait, a senior meteorologist at Accuweather, a private forecasting service used by The Press Democrat.

The current conditions are likely to hold steady for about 10 days, he said.

For firefighters, a half inch of rain in November “would be a blessing,” said Scott McLean, a Cal Fire spokesman.

Rain helps tamp down wildfires, he said, but it also turns trails cut by dozers into mud, making access into burn areas more difficult.

Even after the flames are out, firefighters still need to go in to douse hot spots and check for fuel burning below ground, McLean said.

There were nine active fires in California Thursday, he said, noting that just as the Kincade fire came largely under control three new fires erupted in Southern California. Dry air draws moisture out of living and dead vegetation that fuels wildfires, McLean said.

Santa Rosa received a smidge of rain on one day in both September and October, but otherwise nothing since May, when spring rains kept Sonoma County’s hills green a little longer than usual.

Joe Pozzi, a Valley Ford sheep and cattle rancher, said that welcome wet weather produced a bumper crop of grass to feed livestock and some of it is “still out there.”

But he’s hoping for rain in November to avoid having to buy feed, an expense that cuts into a rancher’s bottom line.

Accuweather, which does long-range forecasting, expects 0.89 inch of rain in November and 2.67 inches in December, both well below 30-year averages.

November is typically a wet month, with an average of 4.69 inches of rain in Santa Rosa, Strait said. Precipitation in November for the past five years, 2014 through 2018, ranges from 1.48 to 6.02 inches.

December’s average is higher, at 7.03 inches, but over the five-year span has ranged from a whopping 14.49 inches in 2014 to a meager 0.08 inches in 2017.

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