Big storms like the one forecast for this week make everything we do around here very difficult. Picking vegetables in the rain and wind while trying not to slip in the mud is no fun. We do our best to minimize the workload and get everyone out of the storms and home early. Friday and Saturday this week we won’t work at all.
Still, it’s not every year that we get a storm that drops a foot of rain over just a few days. This type of dramatic weather event offers lessons for folks like farmers who spend years studying the landscape around them.
Normally dry arroyos come to life as surging, roaring streams or even rivers of muddy water. Our farm — elevation 85 feet — is located just a few miles from the coast range, and hundreds of miles of waterways here drop two thousand feet of elevation in that distance, draining tens of thousands of acres of runoff. Many of the low spots that used to convey water in the heaviest rain events have been filled in or leveled off to make farming easier or crossed by public roads that act as dams.
The primary waterway in our area is Putah Creek, which is dammed 10 miles from our farm to form Lake Berryessa. That keeps the creek pretty tame most of the time, but once the lake is full, any additional runoff goes through the spillway known as “the Glory Hole” and the creek below turns into a different creature completely. With the current level of the reservoir, it will only take one more storm like this one for that to happen. The drought of 2012 could be very short lived indeed, at least in Northern California.
It’s tempting — and maybe prudent — to hunker down inside when it’s pouring rain outside for days. But it’s also a chance to see in action the forces that shaped the world around you. So put on your raingear and head to your nearest waterway or drainage ditch and check out the action.