Storms topple some almond trees, growers report
By TIM HEARDEN
California's seemingly nonstop rain and snow in March filled reservoirs to the brim while affecting the development of some crops.
Many areas of the state have received nearly double their normal rainfall for the month. Eureka sopped up 11.61 inches of rainfall from the March storms, way above its average of 4.61 inches for the month, and Fresno's 3.41 inches far exceeded its average of 1.99 inches for March.
The rain and high winds during the weekend of March 19-20 toppled many almond trees -- about 1 to 2 percent of older trees, industry and University of California Cooperative Extension experts estimate.
The storms knocked over as many as 5 percent of the almond trees at Pacific Farms and Orchards in Gerber, general manager Brendon Flynn said.
"All these recent storms have happened kind of in the middle of our prune bloom also, so we're not sure how it's going to pan out," Flynn said. "It's not very good for the bloom for prunes ... No bee hours."
Almond trees are typically the first to blow over in a storm, whereas walnuts are fairly well rooted, said Rick Buchner, a UCCE farm advisor in Red Bluff. Almond trees are usually the first to don a full coat of leaves, and some older trees develop root decay, he said.
"Some growers were hurt more than others," said Dave Baker, director of member relations for Blue Diamond Growers.
"We don't know what the crop is ... as of right now, but even though it's devastating to some growers, overall the reduction in crop size won't be that much from this," Baker said.
Steady rains can also cause fungus problems, and it's difficult to get into the orchard to spray when the ground is muddy, he said.
The weather has hampered development of other crops, too. According to the California Farm Bureau Federation:
* Rice and tomato planting in the Central Valley have been delayed, although it's not uncommon for planting to begin in April.
* Cool temperatures have slowed the planting of cotton, as soil temperatures must exceed 58 degrees for cottonseed to germinate.
* Strawberry production in some regions has been delayed by rain, although the California Strawberry Commission maintains consumers can still find berries in stores.
Even navel orange groves, which generally respond well to cool rainfall, have gotten enough to push utilization rates down to about 75 percent, said Bob Blakely, director of industry relations for California Citrus Mutual.
"Certainly the rain has disrupted harvesting, but we have had breaks in the weather," Blakely said.
The rain has helped grass production in California rangelands, the Farm Bureau stated.
It has also filled many reservoirs; at Shasta Lake, which was 92 percent full as of March 28, water managers have again ramped up releases into the Sacramento River to make room for more rain and runoff.
California could be in for more unsettled weather in April -- including a potential storm late next week -- before settling into a drier pattern by May, the National Weather Service's long-term models suggest.
"April is still a showery month here in California," said Jim Mathews, a NWS meteorologist in Sacramento. "The rain doesn't really shut off until May."
March and seasonal precipitation totals and comparisons to normal for selected California cities, according to the National Weather Service. Totals are as of March 28:
Eureka: Month to date 11.61 inches (normal 4.96 inches); season to date 38.07 inches (normal 32.33 inches)
Redding: Month to date 8.39 inches (normal 4.63 inches); season to date 30.26 inches (normal 28.25 inches)
Sacramento: Month to date 6.94 inches (normal 2.54 inches); season to date 21.4 inches (normal 15.92 inches)
Modesto: Month to date 3.15 inches (normal 2.07 inches); season to date 13.1 inches (normal 11.3 inches)
Salinas: Month to date 4.19 inches (normal 2.13 inches); Season to date 14.54 inches (normal 11.43 inches)
Fresno: Month to date 3.46 inches (normal 1.99 inches); season to date 14.94 inches (normal 9.64 inches)
Here are the percentages of capacity for California reservoirs as of midnight March 27, according to the Department of Water Resources California Data Exchange Center:
Trinity Lake: 85 percent
Shasta Lake: 92 percent
Lake Oroville: 81 percent
New Bullards Bar Reservoir: 80 percent
Folsom Lake: 66 percent
New Melones Reservoir: 79 percent
Lake McClure: 74 percent
Millerton Lake: 87 percent
Pine Flat Reservoir: 78 percent
Lake Isabella: 41 percent
San Luis Reservoir: 100 percent