Look to Canada for cause of erratic weather

A weather system hanging over eastern Canada explains the
erratic weather patterns in San Benito County during the past few
A weather system hanging over eastern Canada explains the erratic weather patterns in San Benito County during the past few months.

A weather core over Hudson Bay anchored systems that have delivered warm weather over the West Coast while dumping snow on the eastern United States, according to Bob Benjamin, a forecaster with the National Weather Service office in Monterey.

“The high-pressure ridge was good. Good weather stayed dominant on the West Coast,” Benjamin said.

But the variable weather can mean possible trouble for local crops and harvests. Because January was a relatively dry, warm month, many crops are running short of their needed chilling hours.

As of Tuesday, San Benito County growers recorded 653 chilling hours – hours with temperatures below 45 degrees, according to Bill Coates, farm advisor with the University of California, Santa Cruz Cooperative Extension. By the end of February, there should be between 700 and 1,000 chilling hours, he said.

“We need some form of chilling. We’re very low on that,” said Greg Swett, a local walnut grower. “We’re (also) under the normal inches for rain.”

From July 1 through Tuesday, Hollister had received 8.54 inches of rain, Coates said. The 30-year average for that time period is 10.21 inches, he said.

Even though walnut trees are currently dormant, when they start to bud there may be trees in bloom while others aren’t, Swett said. This can lead to variations in crops and harvest, and possibly uneven quality, affecting tree crops such as apricots, walnuts, cherries and apples.

The fewer chilling hours and rain, the more variable the blooms will be, Coates said. For instance, some apricot buds are falling off trees while others are dormant, and this affects the yield, he said.

On the other hand, cattle ranchers are happy with the changing weather – for now. Rain brings grass for cattle to graze, which was plentiful in November and December, and Monday’s rain also helped keep the grass growing, Swett said.

While the varying weather affected most of January with little rain and warmer temperatures than usual, the current pattern is about normal, Benjamin said.

“January was an exceptionally warm month,” he said. “The temps in February are normal, typical.”

November and December were wet months, while January warmed up and was dry. February has returned to the normal 40- to 60-degree weather with some showers.

There is more rain on the way, Benjamin said.

A weaker system than the one that brought rain Monday night may possible bring showers today and Thursday. However, the skies should be clear from Thursday afternoon through the weekend, Benjamin said.

“It will be dry and pretty nice,” he said.

There is a chance of rain next Monday and Tuesday, Benjamin said, and more winter showers can be expected until the spring equinox March 20 at 5 p.m.

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