Early fall storm hammers California raisins in fields
October 5, 2011
FRESNO, Calif. (AP) – A storm dumped more than an inch of rain on parts of California’s agricultural heartland in less than five hours, flooding streets, uprooting trees and soaking a bumper crop of raisins drying in vineyards.
The storm hit Tuesday in Northern California, then swept through the central portions before bringing rainfall to Southern California by midmorning on Wednesday.
A live web cam at China Peak in the central Sierra Nevada showed snow accumulation on the slopes. Squaw Valley USA reported eight inches of new snow overnight, with up to nine more predicted by Thursday. The snow forced the closing of the 9,300-foot Tioga Pass through Yosemite National Park.
“It is an early winter storm. It is not unheard of to have one this early,” said Cindy Bean, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Hanford.
The storm was especially painful to California’s agriculture industry.
Leading up to the deluge, alfalfa growers worked to bale late cuttings, and cotton growers were scrambling to harvest before the storm hit. Rain can soak bolls and cause the cotton to fall out, making it unusable.
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Wine grape growers, who are in the midst of harvest, generally did not expect the rain to be as much of a problem as it would have been if it had come earlier, when mold can develop. In Napa County, only cabernet sauvignon remains in the fields, and its thick skin serves as a protection, growers said. On the Central Coast, growers in the midst of harvest said the rain would serve to wash the dust from the grapes, but likely would not cause damage.
But their colleagues in the raisin industry were hammered. An unseasonably cool spring delayed the peak harvest, for some even past even the Sept. 25 deadline they needed to qualify for crop insurance.
Growers say nearly half of the raisin crop was soaked as it dried in the fields.
“Overall, we think 40 to 50 percent of the raisin crop has been exposed,” said Eric Cisneros of Fresno Cooperative Raisin Growers. “If we get a little bit of wind and sun, it could help. But with the rain comes mold, so it all depends on what stage of drying they are in.”
California produces 360,000 tons of raisins annually, or about 40 percent of the world total.
The rain in the Central Valley turned to snow when it reached the Sierra Nevada, where chains were required at higher elevations.
“It’s a storm similar to early December, but we just got it in early October,” said Johnnie Powell, a National Weather Service forecaster in Sacramento.
No major damage was reported. Temperatures were expected to return to normal by the Columbus Day holiday weekend.
A storm warning remains in effect until late Wednesday for elevations above 6,000 feet. In the Central Valley and foothills, more showers and a chance of thunderstorms were expected.
“First and foremost, we want people to slow down,” California Highway Patrol spokesman Adrian Quintero said.
Pacific Gas & Electric had nearly 2,200 customers without power in Amador, El Dorado, Nevada, Placer, San Joaquin and Yolo counties.
“Cars into utility poles on slick roads, that sort of thing,” said PG&E spokesman Paul Moreno. “We’re looking to get almost everyone back on by early afternoon.”
The Sacramento Municipal Utility District, which provides electricity to Sacramento and part of Placer County, had outages affecting 1,100 customers when trees and branches collapsed onto power lines or blew fuses overnight.
In Southern California, the Los Angeles Fire Department had sandbags available for anyone concerned about flooding.
Associated Press writers Sheila V Kumar in Sacramento, Brooke Donald in San Jose and Don Thompson in Sacramento contributed to this report.