The New Normal


A great TEDx presentation on using livestock to reverse desertification and climate change.

Except for 4 years while I was away at college, I’ve lived pretty much my entire life in the San Francisco Bay Area. Even when I was in college I still was living near the California coast, albeit more in Southern California. You get pretty used to the climate around here. My birthday is mid June and I always knew that my birthday would be a beautiful sunny day. I also could depend on Halloween being dry. Our climate is warm and dry in the summer starting in May and we have cool, wet winters starting in November. The weather was dependable.

Well, at least it used to be. And everyone I have talked with that has also lived here all their lives seem to agree. Our weather patterns are no longer predictable. Our warm, dry summers are not totally dry. The last few years we’ve had rain in July which used to be unheard of. And our cool, wet winters? Well, we now get one of two extremes. It’s either flood-stage rain for an extended period of time, or it’s like this year where it’s rained maybe two or three days since December. January and February this year were the driest on record. We received just over half of the water we got during the second two driest months on record (in 1991). Half. Seriously. Half of the next driest.

This is serious.

In February we got a stunningly low 0.09″ of rain.  The average is 3.9″. In January we only got 0.6″ when we should have been closer to 5.4″. We don’t get a lot of rain to begin with so when the numbers are this low it’s quite alarming.

In the four years we’ve lived here, this is the first time I’ve ever had to water in the winter. We usually disconnect all the irrigation so we can dig freely without hitting lines and also to keep lines from freezing. Unfortunately we’re going to have to hook it back up this weekend because I’ve found that it takes much too long to hand water even the small amount of plants we’ve got in right now.

But this isn’t just about our garden. This is effecting almost the entire country (except for those lucky to live in the Pacific Northwest). One of the biggest victims of unstable climate is agriculture and without agriculture we cease to exist. We cannot live without food but we, as a species, are shortsighted. Our unwillingness to take action now to make changes to our behaviors will end up being our downfall.




  1. While I’m one of those lucky enough to live in the PNW, our weather patterns have also been changing in worrying ways. I’ve lived here all my life and growing up fall, winter and spring were all pretty wet months–not a ton of rainfall at once, but a fairly consistent drizzle. Summers were warm, with just enough moisture to keep things green. The trend over the last few years have been lengthening droughts in all seasons (last summer we had more than two months with zero rain–unheard of for this area) with torrential downpours that last days and turn the soil into muck, wash away topsoil, and flood low lying areas. It’s a gardener’s nightmare–I had seedlings washed away and had to do a lot of replanting and then lots of extra watering during the high growing season, and many of my fall root/bulb crops rotted in the waterlogged soil.

  2. It totally wows me that I’ve had to water this winter. The citruses, an English yew sapling, and a pippin sapling. And the stone fruits think it is spring already. I even watered the mandrakes, just in case. I grew up in Berkeley, so I am used to the climate being what it is, but the past two winters just weren’t winters. I mean, as soon as I relocated to Pittsburg I knew it would be a bit different (for heck’s sake it snowed my second March one afternoon, it go sooo cold before the vernal equinox), but this warm weather is just nuts. This is the season where I hang the laundry in the garage to freeze-dry, not when it is so sunny and warm that I can power through two loads and dry them out well on the clothesline…

    At this point I am just focusing on growing plants which are drought-resistant and have been slowly working through what will grow well. At least my leeks grew and I was able to harvest a few for soup on the weekend.

  3. Like you, I’ve been hand watering, but finally had to suck it up the other day and hook things back up out in the orchard and garden. This is the second winter a row where we’ve been astonishingly dry for an extended period, although this January/February is unbelievable. Last winter I should have watered in December, and didn’t, and my garlic crop was weak as a result the following spring. I shouldn’t have to water winter garlic, ever! This winter I vowed to keep a closer eye on soil moisture conditions. Right now it looks like the end of May/early June out there. Some of our soil is even starting to crack. The inch we’re due to see of rain this week will seem like spitting in the ocean with as dry as it is. I’ve lived either in the SF or Monterey Bay area for the last 30 years, and the last few years, weather-wise, have been anything BUT predictable.

  4. I live up here in the wet PNW, and while rain has come…….this year has been oddly dry. Then 2 days of torrential downpour and more dryness. Its to warm to soon, then tonight it freezes. While i hope this year is a fluke……i know its likely not.

  5. Yes, I’m visiting my parents in Southern California and was surprised at how dry it was this winter. Usually their weather is so predictable, well the storms are arriving when they usually do but they aren’t dropping any moisture. It’s very strange. I live in the PNW and I’ve been loving the warm dry winter because I miss California but the weather certainly is different than it has been.

  6. I lived in Oakland (62nd ave and E 14th st, but they have since renamed it to international Blvd or something like that) as a child and the foothills as a teenager. I remember in the late 70’s the drought that caused water rationing even in the winter. I now live in Arkansas. The last 2 years have been in drought. Not fun… My well got seriously low on water. My garden failed last year because of my inability to water lest I run my well out. Praying for rain this year!!!

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