Wednesday my hiking group gathered at Coyote Hills Regional Park to see the sun set over the San Francisco Bay and the Wolf Moon rise over the Diablo Range. Since I’m easing back into hiking, Coyote Hills seemed a perfect re-entry point. Although I got myself hopelessly lost here the first time I came, it was pleasant hiking over the rolling hills, none more than 400 feet high, along marsh and shoreline. The pluses were birds, birds and more birds, since the park backs up on the Don Edwards Refuge, a major migratory stop for hundreds of bird species — some of them very rare. The minuses — well, the danger of being dive bombed by birds and a distinctly marshy smell. Because, aside from the low rolling hills, the whole area is very marshy.
As we set off at a fast clip, determined to reach our vantage point by sunset, at first all seemed the same. Then, I noticed the difference. No birds overhead. And those huge stretches of green reeds were brown. Where they had been alive with water fowl, now: nothing. And where was that marshy smell? Crossing one of the boardwalk trails that leads over the marshes, suddenly all became frighteningly clear.
Looking closely it was clear what had happened. The marsh is slightly higher than the Bay. But with no rain to replenish the marsh, the whole ecosystem had dried. Or maybe the marsh isn’t lower than the Bay. Maybe the Bay down here at the South end has lowered and stopped feeding the marsh. In any case, it’s all bad news. Not only had the water dried up, but in the course of that process, the area had gotten more and more highly saline. That seems to have caused a large reed die-off, in addition to the lack of water. While the sea birds still have the Bay, there are many birds who require brackish, less saline areas for their migration stops. They won’t find it here. I don’t know how fast or if a marsh area like this can rebound from something like this.
It’s not as if a drought is something we haven’t been worried about. And, in Napa and Sonoma, winemakers have been panicking since November came and went without appreciable rain. But none of us thought things were this bad already.
We also found ourselves looking fearfully at the Bay side of the park. Is the San Francisco Bay low on water as well?
So why are we having no rain when the rest of the country is socked in with precipitation. The San Jose Mercury News gave the best explanation I’ve heard yet. Imagine a huge high pressure system. Think really, really huge. As in as large as the entire Sierras. That system has parked itself off the coast of California thirteen months ago and since then has been blocking all our usual storms. In fact, it’s been deflecting them up North to Canada where the Polar Vortex has shot them down through the middle of the country. So all you people in the Midwest and East who are buried in snow, those are our storms. That’s our water.
Temperature changes can bring about high pressure systems. And this one is unprecedented since weather patterns have been charted. It’s bigger, badder and more persistent than the pressure system that caused California’s last big drought. And nobody can say when and if it will break up and let the rain through.
At this point, if I see another Facebook post of Al Gore covered with snow with a caption like “What Global Warming?” I’m going to scream. Because this is serious, folks. It’s happening. It’s here. And it’s real.
And if you are a die-hard Red Stater who could care less about California, check your grocery prices. We feed a good part of America. And, in agricultural regions, farmers are already fallowing fields, preparing to plant fewer crops and discussing rationing.
Get ready for $10 broccoli and the $4 head of lettuce.
The Wolf isn’t just in the moon. It’s at the door.