Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall: California’s Pineapple Express

What a week! To say it rained is an understatement. Back to back storms battered California for several days, wreaking havoc up and down the state. Dangerous mudslides, overflowing waterways, downed trees and snarled traffic have been the norm.

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California Grey Squirrel using his tail as an umbrella

Much like the proverbial flood gate, we’ve endured five years of drought and then the rain all flowed at once.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA):

atmospheric rivers come in many shapes and sizes, those that contain the largest amounts of water vapor and the strongest winds can create extreme rainfall and floods, often by stalling over watersheds vulnerable to flooding. These events can disrupt travel, induce mudslides and cause catastrophic damage to life and property. A well-known example is the “Pineapple Express,” a strong atmospheric river that is capable of bringing moisture from the tropics near Hawaii over to the U.S. West Coast.

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Flooded sign at the head of Los Gatos Creek Trail

Here in San Jose we’ve been incredibly lucky. Other than losing power for several hours after the first storm, we’ve been otherwise okay. Our street didn’t flood, and we didn’t lose any trees (thank goodness).

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From the PG& E website

The only nail-biting experience was my attempt to get to an appointment mid-week “over the hill” in nearby Felton. There are only two ways to get there from here, by highway 17 or highway 9. Both routes travel through winding hills. I checked the traffic reports before heading out (CHP closed Highway 9 but 17 remained open), but it was not to be. Just a few miles in to my trip, the rain started to fall in sheets. There were mudslides the day before, and heavy puddles were already forming. I found a safe place to exit the freeway, canceled my appointment by phone, then headed home. What timing. The traffic had already stalled, backing up for miles in the southbound direction. Another mudslide snarled traffic. My friend who lives in Santa Cruz left work around 6 Tuesday evening, and didn’t arrive home until 2 am. She sat on the freeway for hours, finally got off the road in nearby Los Gatos, until road crews were able to clear one lane.  Several of us offered her a place to stay, but I think she was anxious to get home to her dog.

Unfortunately, many others in the state have not been so lucky. When trees endure years of drought, their roots shrink as a form of self-preservation. When heavy rains come along, the ground is quickly saturated and the water has nowhere to go. Massive trees toppled all over the area, destroying cars, a few homes and stalling our Bay Area Rapid Transit.  Several rivers and streams reached and then exceeded flood stage, spilling water into nearby communities.

I took this video of Lexington Reservoir after turning back for home on Tuesday. An hour and a half later, it overflowed its banks into the Los Gatos creek flooding the trails and closing the park.

In between storms, I walked with a friend near Almaden Lake.  I’ve never seen it so full, and again, parts overflowed washing out trails.

There are many positives in all of this. For the first time in years, most of the state’s reservoirs are full. Snow pack in the Sierra, which provides a third of our fresh water doubled in a week. On January 3rd, it was only 70% of normal for this time of year. After this series of storms it’s 158% of normal!

According to our local paper, the storms delivered a whopping 350 Billion gallons of water to our reservoirs. I can’t begin to wrap my brain around that number.

The Rainy Day

by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the mouldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.

My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains, and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the mouldering Past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast,
And the days are dark and dreary.

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

Beautiful poetry aside, rainy days lift my spirits. I’m not feeling dark or dreary, just hopeful that this could be the beginning of the end of this California drought.

What’s your weather up to today?

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66 thoughts on “Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall: California’s Pineapple Express

  1. Quite a lot like yours, by the sound of it. We are having a brief interlude of sunshine, which has sent the humidity into the stratosphere. I can’t go into the yard without rubber boots, as every footstep squishes up to my ankles. Luckily this part of the country is geared up for monsoon weather and there are huge stormwater gullies and drains and holding basins everywhere. It’s probably just as well both our mowers are on the fritz, I think the Husband would sink up to his axles if he tried to take the ride-on out to deal with the calf-high grass…

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    • Kate, you must have a lot of clay in your soil for it to be so squishy. What a slog…literally. This kind of rain is rare out here, so although there are flood control measures in place, this much rain in a short amount of time is never good. Do you also lose trees during your wet season or are they more deeply rooted and used to the moisture? I think that was the scariest part for me as it is the one thing you really can’t prepare for.

      I hope the sun stays out for awhile. We’re drying out tomorrow through Sunday, then another storm. Hopefully it will be a bit more tame.

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      • No clay, it’s very sandy, but we’ve had SO MUCH rain and the tides are very high just now so the ground water can’t get away too well. As this is the tropics and a monsoon happens every year, the trees don’t tend to shrink back. But they do blow down in our regular storms! Trees in the drier interior have much deeper roots than ones on the coast, as you suggest.

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        • Oh of course, sand. That makes sense. Thanks for clarifying, Kate. A lot is said of the palm trees that can withstand hurricane force winds. We have a number of them in our state, and I’ve never heard of a single palm tree coming down in a storm. Sadly, thanks to the drought, we’ve lost millions of trees in the state due to bark beetles. They’re normally present but symbiotic with the trees, but the dry conditions have allowed them to take over. It’s not uncommon now to pass a stand of trees, with one completely brown. Perhaps all of this has gone on for thousands of years, but because we live in such built up areas, having a diseased tree out your back door is a much bigger problem. There is so much to think about.

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  2. 350 billion gallons! How do they know that? But by whatever means that is a rather large number that I too cannot comprehend. No wonder your rivers are high, overflowing and a lovely muddy hue! i’m guessing we have had a couple billion gallons fall down here in the last two weeks. Two days without rain so far this year. Back to rain again today, but ours is at least intermittent and somewhat gentler. I’m glad to read you have escaped the worst of the damage. I’m guessing a cancelled appointment is small chips when faced with the option of spending a night sitting in your car waiting for the road to become passable. What an awful way to spend a night! Well, the reservoirs are full and that is excellent news and the garden must be a bit happier for the water table rising a tad. Love the photo of the squirrel with his umbrella. Clever chap!! Probably best to stop the rain dancing now Alys, just for a while. xoxo

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    • Pauline, I’m guessing that they measured the capacity of the reservoirs along with the amount of water before and after the storms. Math is not my strong point but that is how I would calculate it, but only if forced. 😉 Is it unusual for you to have so much summer rain? I know some areas here get plenty of summer rain, especially in the plains, but it is warm rain and only serves to increase the humidity.

      Yes! Small chips indeed to bail on an appointment. I’m a nervous drive in the best of conditions when it comes to mountain roads. You see all the tire skid marks from places people don’t slow down. It’s a constant reminder while driving of how dangerous it can be. Of course, driving the speed limit increases your chance of getting home in one piece. I drive like a granny which doesn’t always endear me to the speedsters, but I don’t care. Slow and steady may not win the race, but it is more likely to get you home in one piece.

      I felt so bad for Frances unable to get back home, worrying about Toby and wondering if the road would ever clear. They’ve made many improvements along that stretch of highway to reduce mud slides, but you can’t stop nature completely.

      It’s fantastic news on the reservoir front. My garden froze just a few days before the rains started, so I have lots of frost damage. Ironically, the sweet peas and nigella have sprung up again and don’t seem at all bothered by the cold.

      The squirrels are a constant source of entertainment around here, and quite resourceful. I’ll put away my dancing shoes for now. Hugs!

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      • I think your sweet peas and nigella are out to show that self seeded plants choose where and when to pop up and are hardier than those namby-pampy nursery bred types. Go the volunteers!!

        It’s not just the rain that is the issue here – there are very cold winds blowing, straight up from Antarctica and the air is cold too. Humidity is mostly not doing anything much – except when we do get a warm day and then it causes that summer kind of rain you mentioned. Our summers in this part of the country are usually good, but the last three or four years have definitely not been the usual event. Summer is starting later and is cooler I think. The best months now seem to be Feb, March, April. And even February and April are a bit suspect now! 🙂 We’ll see, I’m watching closely. We want to get you in during the two week dry spell if we can 🙂

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        • Oh dear…a two week dry spell. That would be sad if that is the state of your weather, Pauline. What a shock to hear that it has changed so radically these past several years. Here our storms are almost always tropical, with even winter temps going up ten degrees with the arrival of rain. I’m sorry to hear that your SUMMER rains can be so cold. It must make it hard to plan things, too, like summer weddings, picnics or outdoor concerts, eh?

          You made me laugh with your namby-pamby comment. I think you’re right. I just checked on all the volunteers today and they seem impervious to the frost of two weeks ago and last week’s storms. I’m quite impressed. I’ve also been farming out handfuls of pumpkin seeds to the squirrels, expecting great things again this summer. 🙂

          I can’t believe I’m coming to New Zealand next year!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  3. I’ve been thinking of all that rain,Alys, and hoping all was well. First fire, then flood, but at least the flooding means reservoirs are full. I do hope the drought ends. The mud slides are scary. I am glad you turned back to go home when that threatetened.

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    • Thank you, Lisa. It has been quite a year in this state. They were concerned about mudslides around some of the burned hills, but the mudslides we did have seemed to be unrelated, at least what I’ve heard. It is wonderful seeing the reservoirs fill after such a long time. Now we need to figure out ways to capture the run off, instead of having it wasted, and washed out to sea.

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        • They’ve passed laws here that prohibit new construction, either commercial or residential without incorporating drainage to prevent runoff. It doesn’t help established homes and businesses, but it’s a start. We installed a rain catchment system last winterr, and I have to say it feels wonderful to be capturing and diverting that rain back to the garden. Of course this recent set of storms could have filled our meager system ten times over, but it’s a start. The overflow from my system goes back into the ground water which has also been severely depleted in the drought. Do you have any systems like that in Melbourne?

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  4. We have been thinking about our California friends all week long, Alys! So grateful for your update tonight letting us know that your neighborhood is safe. Our hearts are with all those affected by the terrible flooding and mudslides. Hopefully, these torrential rains will mark the end of your long drought! When the sun shines again, your garden will be so happy! That means the gardener will being doing her ‘happy dance’… and breathing a huge sigh of relief! ♡

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    • Thank you, Dawn. How sweet you are. My garden (and this gardener) are absolutely grateful for this rain, as are the birds and squirrels who are getting easy access to a fresh drink of water. The experts are saying that this series of storms will end the California drought in 40 to 50% of the state. It’s still very dry in Southern California, but hopefully this next set of storms arriving Tuesday will move further south. All the skiers are excited about the fresh snow, so I imagine it will have been a record weekend in Tahoe. It is quite beautiful, too.

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  5. So glad you are alright! Here on the Gulf Coast of Texas we have floods all the time ( a geologist I know said, “All of Texas is basically trying to slide off into the Gulf of Mexico.”) but most of the area is so flat, it’s just that the rain spreads out and sits on top of the ground. It’s really predictable as far as which places are going to flood. I can’t imagine having to worry about mudslides and falling rock on top of that, and then having to negotiate curvy steep roads too!
    Also, I never knew where that often-used quote came from, so thank you for including the poem!

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    • Oh dear! That’s funny (and not). They’ve been predicting major earthquakes out here that will create a whole new coast line for as long as I can remember. Ha!

      I’ve lived in a valley for so long, that it’s hard to imagine everything being so flat. My sister lived in Iowa for a few years, and she really missed the mountains. I guess it’s all what we get used to, eh? Are you native to Texas? I’m originally from Ontario, Canada, where we had four true seasons, summer rains, blizzards and the like. Here we have subtle seasons, no snow, some rain and always that low-hum possibility of earthquakes.

      I too was happy to find the origin of that saying.

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      • Sadly, I am not a native Texan but I got here as fast as I could! We have very gently rolling hills here NW of Houston where I live, but I spent so many decades in the flat Houston area, that anything remotely curvy and hilly scares me to death! But I would love to have more seasons. We have two that are each about 6 months long — bearable and SUMMER.

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        • You made me smile! I have a friend from Texas who describes the seasons as hot, hot, hot and Christmas. That always makes me giggle. I would wilt in that kind of heat. San Jose is bad enough. I’m originally from Ontario, Canada with British Aisle roots, and I have the fair skin and freckles to prove it. I don’t do heat!

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    • The snow is gorgeous. My skiing friends are thrilled for the days ahead. We’re expecting more tropical storms this week, so I’m hoping the four dry days in between help things dry out. They still haven’t assessed the full damage, but I know it will be extraordinary. It’s been an expensive year for disasters here.

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  6. And all you had to do to end the drought, Alys, was take out your lawn! 🙂 Single handedly you have saved the entire state of California. The butterfly effect. 🙂 I asked for weather cold enough to kill off the stink bugs. Got it. It will be 19 tonight. It’s been cold like that for the last week. This last storm was a doozy! Several inches of snow and lots of ice. No one is going anywhere. Schools have a 3 day vacation from this. Fortunately, my daughter works from home when it’s like this. I was so thrilled TS got off the road before this hit. Held it back as long as I could. I watched the Sierra’s and was thrilled to see all the snow pack there. Mammoth got a whopping load too. I will not venture out as it’s still a sheet of ice out there. I am so glad you got turned around and headed back home. You remember my tale of the 3 hour drive from the airport to cover 22 miles. Some folks ran out of gas on the highway waiting to get moving again. It’s flat dangerous. I’m glad your friend finally made it. That had to be terrifying. At least you have some rain and are not flooded out like some in N. Calif. That’s just sad.

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    • Marlene, you crack me up. Oh, to be so powerful against nature. Thanks for the smile. Congratulations on your cold weather and good riddance to the stink bugs. They’re a terrible pest. I am not a fan. I’m happy to hear that your daughter can work from home. The fewer people on the road the better, too. The Sierra snow is making a lot of people happy: drought monitors, skiers, gardeners, and probably photographers, too.

      I do remember your trek to the airport. Three hours! That’s just beyond the pale.

      I am grateful to have weathered this storm so easily, and really feel for those that did not. Do you continue to have cold days ahead?

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      • Glad I could make you laugh. My day is complete. I think I got more than I bargained for with the cold but tomorrow should be the last of the deep cold. Rain moves in Monday and will melt the ice so we can all move our cars again. I can manage fine but I’ve seen what the rest do so I’m staying put. I don’t think of it as being powerful “against” nature. I ask nicely and she obliges me. 🙂 We have an understanding and a deep respect. 🙂

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        • You are wise to stay put. I’m glad the deep cold will finally give way. Ice is so scary. We get so little of it here. I had an early appointment with a client one January and slipped on her walkway heading for the door. It had been cold enough to freeze the night before but no rain. It must have been from a watered lawn or something. I tweaked my back, but didn’t go all the way down. Then I felt a bit foolish. Lessons learned.

          Deep respect: what the native Americans have been trying to show us from the start. Sigh

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  7. Glad you weathered it so well. What a week, indeed! Weirs opened for the first time in over a decade; agricultural lands purposefully flooded to keep cities from doing so; a few busted and overflown levees; hearts go out to some unlucky small towns; but large scale disaster averted. Hats off to the amazing teams who coordinate all this incredible water flow to keep us safe.

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  8. And I was complaining that it started snowing this morning here in S.W. France even though it’s only to be expected at this time of year! It sounds absolutely horrendous over there – I can’t even imagine how scary it must be and your friend must have felt so helpless, stuck for all that time in her car and worrying about her dog back at home.
    Stay safe and, as somebody else has said, I never realised where that quote came from before and now I do so thank you for that.

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    • You know, I think we all like to complain about the weather. There is something universal about it. Then when something like this comes along you think, “wow” we usually have it pretty good. I wonder about people that live in the true extremes of northern climates like Alaska or on the edge of the equator.

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  9. I was wondering how the heavy rain might be affecting you. Good to know all is well. And it’s splendid that the reservoirs are full. Unlike Pauline, we, who are further north, are experiencing a lack of rain. I would be only to happy to relieve Pauline of the burden of some of those wet days. 😉

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  10. WOW!! That is a lot of rain but I am glad to see CA not so dry. You have such horrible fire seasons it is nice to know you have a good water supply for now, like you I sure hope this is the beginning of the end. But I do hope you don’t wash away before the end. 🙂 Glad your friend was able to get home safe and sound. We loved the years we lived in CA. The Lompoc Valley is soooo beautiful. I miss all the yummy produce and the eucalyptus trees. Have I told you all this? Sorry if I have. I have family in the Modesto area. High, dry dessert country for the most part. When I was little it was all produce, these days it’s LOTS of almonds. Thank you for sharing the photos and the storm. Stay safe. That poem is one of my favorites. As to the weather here. It was 9 degrees Monday morning, 72 degrees for a high yesterday and today will be in the 40’s with ice and snow for the weekend. Good grief Charlie Brown. Julia headed to DC today to check on some arrangements for the funeral in March. Should be a good day for walking about. I thought of you the other day, I was in a store called And That (in case you have it in CA) and they had the dearest collection of items for fairie gardens. Take care and thanks again for sharing the rain.

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    • Amy, how nice to see you here. Thanks for commenting. I had no idea that you once lived in California. You are full of surprises. The eucalyptus trees smell wonderful don’t they? They remind me of grade school, as I used to walk along a stand of trees going to school each morning. The state has changed a lot in the past thirty years, especially this valley. Out with the agriculture, in with high-tech. I miss the open spaces that have grown less and less.

      Your weather is all over the map, Amy. I’m glad you’re getting some warm days mixed in with the cold. We’ve been seeing mostly fifties by day. When it’s raining the night temps are also in the fifties, but on the dry days we’re down to forties and some times thirties. 9 degrees is cold! Brrr.

      I’ve never heard of And That but is sure sounds like my kind of store. I’m glad you could accompany Julia into DC.

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  11. I’ve been wondering about you and whether this was all happening in your back yard. Scary stuff–the power of water is hard to imagine until you see it coming at you! Here, we have the opposite–5 years ago, we had historic high levels in the lake and, now, it’s at nearly historic low. And we’ve had very little rain and almost no snow at all! Don’t tell me that climate change isn’t for real . . .

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    • The whole concept of climate change deniers is an odd one to me. Why don’t we continue to think the earth is flat, too. It seems just as absurd. I remember photos on your blog of your front garden under water and silt. I’m stunned to hear that it is now at historic lows. It sounds a lot like the pattern we’ve had out here. Do you have any snow forecast over the next two weeks? January is one of our coldest months, though February tends to be cold and very dry which I like less.

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  12. I was thinking of you when I saw the news and wondering if you still had dry feet! It is going from one excess into the next! Mother Nature does as she pleases. But oh my goodness Alys, what a gloomy poem!!! My ears started drooping when reading..My friend Henry David Thoreau says it much better: “Single gentle rain makes the grass many shades greener. So our prospects brighten on the influx of better thoughts. We should be blessed if we lived in the present always, and took advantage of every accident that befell us.”…although I will admit immediately that your rain was not gentle ;o) Maybe buy a funky umbrella and matching rain boots??? xo Johanna

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    • I love your fashion sense, Johanna. That sounds like fun. The poem is rather gloomy, thought it does point out that the sun is always there. Still, your Thoreau share is lovely. I especially love: …so our prospects brighten on the influx of better thoughts.” Delightful.

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  13. Jeepers! I’m so glad to read that you escaped the worst of it, Alys (although getting around still sounded quite harrowing). On the plus side, at least there are reservoirs to capture some of the water — and now they’re full. Stay safe out there!

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    • Thank you, H!. We’re have a few days dry out before the next set of storms, so waters have a chance to recede. I’ve never been so happy to be off the road as I was that day. Thanks for your supportive words. Have a terrific week.

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  14. I didn’t realise that yo were having such dreadful weather over there. There’s a poem about Australia that would apply to California too, as it has a line about ‘droughts and flooding rains’. Add in the horrific wildfires and you have had it all over the last year or so. I am glad that you (and the squirrel!) have been able to stay safe and dry, and your garden will certainly appreciate it! I love how Insearchofitall says that all you had to do to break the drought was to take out your lawn!!
    The weather in Melbourne has been its usual variable self. We had some stinking hot ones a few days ago, then some rain, now some lovely days and then back to stinking hot next week ~ in time for the beginning of the Australian Open Tennis!

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    • Anne, I think we do share similar weather, including the unfortunate back and forth between drought and heavy rains. With global warming at the forefront, it’s hard to know where all this will lead.

      Yes, Marlene made me giggle that my lawn removal brought on all this rain. I love not having a lawn, and especially enjoy the extra flowers, bees, hummingbirds and even butterflies that are gathering in the native garden. I’m really looking forward to visiting Australia one day, and hope that visit means meeting you.

      Will you go to see the Australian Open in person? What fun that would be.

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  15. I’m so pleased you’ve had a decent amount of rain in terms of filling the reservoirs. A shame about all the disruption – I just hope you will have more normal weather patterns from now on, so that tree roots don’t shrink etc.

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  16. I am glad you decided to cancel that appointment Alys! It certainly doesn’t sound like a tale of California, but it is so good to hear that the reservoirs are full. Did it rain across the whole state? Nasty weather conditions on the roads are to be avoided here too – in our case it is icy at the moment as temperatures briefly rose to just above freezing last Friday (a hurricane passed through!) allowing the snow to melt a little, only to refreeze the next day… and with more snow on top of that now I shall rely on reserves in my cupboards for a few days before venturing out to the supermarket again! I was feeling a bit ‘dark and dreary’, but that poem says it so well – the sun is still up there, somewhere! Take care, stay dry, and think of all the fresh growth you will see soon!

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    • Thank you, Cathy. It did rain over most of the state, but very little in the south. They need it, too. They expected these past storms to go more south then they did. That’s nature for you.

      I’m stunned to read that a hurricane passed through on Friday. I had no idea you got them there, nor at this time of year. I learn something new every day. I’m glad you are okay, but it does sound dark and dreary. Stay safe. Think spring-like thoughts.

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  17. Oh Alys, I’ve been so neglectful! I’ve been vaguely aware of the heavy rains but have been so distracted that I didn’t investigate further. I’m so glad that you had minimal problems, and so relieved that the reservoirs are full!
    Just mentioned you in my post!

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    • Thank you for the ping back, Laurie. It is great news that the reservoirs are full. What a week we had. There is more rain in the forecast starting Tuesday, but no word yet on how heavy those rains will be. I hope the 21st is a clear day for both of us, though nothing will keep me from marching.

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      • Yes, I’ll hope the rain settles down for you all. We were originally worried about freezing temps, but it looks like it will be in the 50s. AND it looks like rain during the inauguration. Do I sound petty? 🙂

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  18. Wacky wacky weather hey?! It must come from out in the warm pacific and just dump when it hits land. At any rate, thank heavens for full resevoirs. I remember seeing them extremely low when we drove out to the train ride through the redwoods. Poor Toby waiting for mom to arrive and her no doubt worried for Toby too. I’d climb a mountain to know the kitties were ok and I know you would too. Then again, you’re a mom and would not only climb that mountain but swim a shark infested lake, battle a grizzly then slay a dragon to ensure your boys were safe. Some of that seemed extreme but you get the picture, LOL.
    I think it’ll be super dry here this summer. We’ve not had much snow, even though it’s been bitterly cold at times. There’s just no moisture around. We get most of our moisture in June and July though, so we’ll see. Last year it rainned buckets before you arrived. It went on for days and even at that, the forests burned like tinder up north. The river was extremely high at times, they had to close walking trails. If you remember, I tried to get a picture and almost knocked my glasses off, LOL…..what a panicing fumble that was. “Oh, oh, (juggle) no, no, ah, saved them”! It went something like that.
    I adore your cute squirrel and his built in umbrella. Those rascals probably have somewhere’s cozy to sleep it off until the sun shines again. I wish we had a squirrel cam in their little abode and we could watch their teeny furry tummys go up and down as they softly snoozed away. Maybe their nose would twitch once in a while too. xox ta ta for now k

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