The Corner

Global Cooling in California?

Secretary of Energy Chu, in a famous quote prior to assuming office, warned of a 10 percent annual Sierra Nevada snowpack and California farms that would dry up and blow away. If our Nobel-laureate secretary was that pessimistic, I wondered, perhaps I should be too, inasmuch as I have no desire to see my tiny 40 acre farm of a 140-year pedigree turn to dust particles on the apocalyptic sirocco.

But in the last two years, the opposite seems to have happened. Suddenly these months, as I drive across the state each week, the rivers are lapping over their banks, dams or no dams, all the way from the Sierra to the Bay Area delta. The weather reminds me of Michigan’s. The once near-drained (cf. the pesky Delta smelt) San Luis Reservoir, the brilliantly engineered capstone of the now hated Central Valley Water Project, looks like Loch Ness. The environmentalists are oddly quiet and perhaps frustrated: There is enough water for everyone, it seems, these last 24 months. The ditch tenders out here in the valley are begging farmers to tap the communal ditch and the Sierra run-off. Once-dry ponds are full, and the arid San Joaquin Valley is beginning to look like Minnesota.

When I drove up to the Sierra — the four-lane highway 168 has been closed for two weeks — there was over ten feet of snow, in early April at 7,000 feet. The next 6,000 feet up are impassable and will be so until June or maybe July. I don’t think Kaiser Peak will be hikeable until mid-July at the earliest. Some houses look crushed; most are near invisible. I can’t distinguish the roofline from the ground at my cabin; it is more like an igloo. The roof has about 8–10 feet of snow on it. I just hope it is still there when I try again to tunnel in come May. The local ski resort could in theory go on until June. Summer in Fresno, heavy snow one hour away? Is the planet cooling?


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