Now that was a real, honest-to-goodness Central Valley heatwave: 10 days straight of temperatures over 100 degrees.
Weather forecasters got a little excited about the hot weather last week, predicting that record high temperatures would be broken. Other folks talked about how “crazy” it was for it to be so hot in mid-June. Global warming got a lot of mentions.
Truth is, it gets plenty hot in the Sacramento Valley in June. After all, the solstice is the longest day of the year, which is another way of saying the sun has more time to heat things up then it does any other day. Most of the temperature records for last week were set back in the 1960s, and thankfully very few of them fell this year.
That said, it’s been years since it has been so hot here at night. We normally benefit from our proximity to the Delta and its cooling breezes. It can be 105 in Winters during the day and still cool down to the high 50s at night. So even when it’s hot for several days, you still get a break each night and the next morning.
Several nights last week it barely got below 80 degrees at dawn, and it was toasty until midnight nearly every day. The lack of nighttime cooling takes a serious toll on both humans and plants. We sent our employees home at noon three days. On a normal day most people are wearing jackets or hoodies when we start work at 5:30 am, but last week we were sweating even at sunrise. It was downright unpleasant.
Many of the plants we grow can be damaged by intense daytime heat — say, 108 degrees or higher. We mostly avoided those issues. However, we did lose crops due to the hot temperatures at night. Quite a few tomatoes went straight from underripe to cooked, as did a few varieties of peaches. And we lost the majority of the fruit of one entire variety of table grape that was at a particularly vulnerable stage of its growth — just entering versaison, when the skin changes color from green to black. The grapes are now raisins, but without any sweetness.
Tomato blossoms abort when temperatures are over 100 degrees. Almost every year this causes a gap in our harvest. We expect this to happen about two months from now, in late August. Until then, though, it looks like we’ll have plenty of tomatoes.
Other casualties of the weather: two of our 4 produce coolers failed just a few days into the heatwave — as did air conditioners and refrigerators across the valley. But because Heatstorm 2017 arrived before the peak of our summer harvest season, we were able to pack everything into the other two coolers while the malfunctioning ones were repaired.
All in all, things could have been much worse. People and plants are now acclimated to the heat and we are ready for summer.