Spring 2010 Wildflower Trip Chronicles
by David Senesac    page 3 of 7

Spring 2010 Wildflower Road Trips...page 2
Spring 2010 Wildflower Road Trips...page 4
Spring 2010 Wildflower Trip Chronicles contents

Notes on the 2009 > 2010 Rainy Season

The following is a crude analysis of the fall 2009 through spring 2010 rainy season in parts of Central and Southern California that have some bearing on nearby areas many of we, spring wildflower and photography enthusiasts seek out

state monthly precipitation maps


The above state map graphics were derived from information at www.prismclimate.org. The maps show monthly precipitation in inches per the key. One ought note that just an inch or two of monthly precipitation can be much above normal in southeastern desert areas while conversely mountainous areas to the north may show a dozen or more inches of rain and still be well below normal. What the six maps shows is broadly when, where, and how much precipitation fell. The seventh map at lower right is average temperature departure from normal in degrees F. And the map below right show precipitation for the full season.

CDEC site precipitation graphs


The below precipitation graphs have been screen captured from displays created using California Data Exchange Center aka CDEC Department of Water Resources online graphing tools. The graphs list 11 remote automated weather stations from north through south.

  • MBB is the lower Merced River canyon at Briceberg. 119.98 37.60
  • LBN is Los Banos a station near San Luis Reservoir at southwestern Merced County. 121.05 37.05
  • FCH is Fancher Creek in the Fresno County foothills. 119.46 36.88
  • KRN is Kernville near Lake Isabella in the Southern Sierra Nevada in Kern County. 118.42 35.75
  • LPZ is La Panza along SR58 in the Coast Range of San Luis Obispo County. 120.19 35.38
  • JWB is east of the Sierra in eastern Kern County southwest of Red Rock State Park. 118.22 35.29
  • POP is the Antelope Valley State Poppy Reserve in Los Angeles County. 118.40 34.74
  • FGR is Figueroa in Santa Barbara County. -120.01 34.73
  • YUC is Yucca Valley north of Joshua Tree National Park. 116.41 34.12
  • SAR is at the Santa Rosa Plateau northeast of Temecula in eastern Riverside County. 117.23 33.53
  • RAN is Ranchita in the mountains west of Anza Borrego State Park in San Diego County. 116.49 33.22

The period covered begins in October of 2009 when the first significant storm occurred and ends in late April 2010. All periods are the same 210 days except for POP that had an error after early January through mid February so I broke its chart into two parts that don't align with the other graphs. The vertical axis on each graph varies so take note. There are better sources for precipitation near or at some wildflower areas however those datum were not available for the graphing tool. Additionally there are large areas of the state that have no weather stations at all and rely on the vagueness of radar and satellite tracking of storms, the data for which is often of low quality. For instance the CRZ Carrizo Plain station data has been providing current daily information but not been logging accumulated online data at all this year. And Borrego Springs A well as Death Valley are not automated but rather manual entry. On some graphs for example FGR, the accumulated totals were zeroed during the graphed period causing a high line to move to baseline.


Comments on the 2009 > 2010 rainy season

I'll first state that there seemed to be a disconnect between what enthusiasts thought the large storm in late January meant and how the spring wildflower season in the southland later played out. Many of areas of Southern California but not all, had been droughty since the epic year of 2005. The 2003 season and 1998 seasons were the two previous years of significant El Nino precipitation. There had been some good rains in narrow areas of the south part of the state in both 2006 and 2008. And that rainfall variability that occurs in any season means there may be localized areas where conditions appear much drier or wetter than nearest stations. In fact in 2008 where thunderstorms came up from the south in the fall, driving just a couple miles beyond where each thunderstorm cell passed made a huge difference in vegetation.


October thru mid January

The rainy season of 2009 to 2010 had started with a large storm in mid October of a size that only occurs about once a decade that moved through north and central California areas providing much above normal precipitation as far south as Ventura County through the Southern Sierra while little or no rain fell further south or in the Mojave desert. What that did for areas that received good rains, was bring seeds of annuals and plants in those areas out of dormancy while it did not for the desert areas further south. Generally plants need a good soaking to wake up. Only after the ground has become moist, do smaller incremental storms have relative effect. In other words, several quarter inch rainfall storms in arid areas early in a season does little. After the mid October storm, a period through November was rather dry for the lower two-thirds of the state. Then in early December a decent storm provided rains for all regions including desert areas. That storm likely brought out of dormancy a good number of seeds and plants in desert areas of the southland. Then through mid January were a few small storms that didn't reach much further south than Monterey. So through mid January, much of Southern California was looking at another drought winter while the central part of the state was modestly below normal.


major storms of late January

Well in later January when many people hopes had dimmed El Nino suddenly visited with a change of the jetstream with back to back series of very powerful storms over several days that put high levels of precipitation across most of the state and that was especially so in many desert areas. In fact further east in Arizona the storm in places was one of the biggest winter storm ever recorded. That ensured at least some wildflowers would emerge later in the spring however how that would play out would be dependent on what would happen during February. Wildflower enthusiasts and photographers lined up talking up the situation on web boards, setting up vacations, and making long range travel plans. The January storm was a late start for plants to rise at usual times as in most previous years so though it certainly brought many plants out of dormancy, how the bloom might proceed was generally unknown. In fact such anomalies usually cause unsynchronized blooms depending on species. Strong blooms have occurred from late rains and the classic case is the 1991 Miracle March event that broke the 6 year drought and provided record blooms in some areas despite being so late. One might reflect on early February of 2005 when there were already significant blooms over a wide range of species occurring in Sonora Desert areas at Anza Borrego and southern Death Valley.


late winter into early spring

Following the big week, a modest storm occurred a couple weeks later in early February that again reached down into Southern California areas. Following that for a month,weather in the southland though often cloudy and cool did not offer much rain. The coolness in particular may have also delayed plants coming out of dormancy and is quite evident on the seventh map above. That may have been why at the end of March when Antelope Valley poppies often peak, displays were dismal though goldfields made a show and then surprised people by coming out strongly a couple weeks later when goldfields were drying, muted, and on the wane. Further north some modest rains did occur during the period. In late February a moderately strong storm occurred that was only modest south of the Antelope Valley. The Carrizo station showed a whopping two inches that told me that was the one area most likely to have a good bloom. Watching radars live, I also noticed it seemed to go red over the Temblor Range. Soon after that event, the Carrizo BLM site was reporting the formerly dry Soda Lakes were filling and the Temblor Range looked very green. One of the areas that was being talked up was huge Anza Borrego State Park and much of the reason was western San Diego County and its Mountains were much above normal getting good regular rains. However those rains except for the one big January week were not that big in eastern county areas.


Accordingly blooms were far less impressive than in 1998, 2003, 2005, and even the modest bloom in 2008. Another place that was a much bigger flop was the Cottonwood Creek bajada in southern Joshua Tree National Park. In 2003, 2005, and 2008 the bajada had vast fields of dense wildflowers. Thhis winter the Palm Springs weather station showed above normal rains but how much of it actually fell on those areas a bit east is unknown? Some local ranch owner comments might be interesting. In Death Valley the two February storms both were significant enough that it ensured a moderately decent bloom though rather delayed from what occurred in 2005.

One area in the northern state I expected to at least be good since rainfall sites both east and west appeared to show a bit above normal precipitation was the lower Merced Canyon where a vast seed crop of poppies was on the ground after 2009's epic post wildflower bloom. Not so as I pulled the plug on my planned Sierra road trip for mid March. That reminded me of 2006 in Antelope Valley when rainfall was way above normal but displays were pathetic except in areas of the northwest valley.


Accordingly I have a suspicion poppy seeds may not really be ready to come out of dormancy in succeeding years but rather need to age longer? A Backpacker Magazine web site forums group was planning a trip for late March at Carrizo Plain that I encouraged with information that it was looking promising. I expected most photographers would continue to unproductively visit other southern desert areas and not be aware of Carrizo much as happened in 2006. And that came to pass. Since it is distant from Southern California areas it is reported less on web boards and many reports that come in are vague since it is a vast area with poor roads. An area I knew very well that one might read about at my Spring 2006 Wildflower Trip Chronicles link top right on my home page.


Spring 2010 Wildflower Road Trips...page 4
Spring 2010 Wildflower Road Trips...page 2
Spring 2010 Wildflower Trip Chronicles contents

   David Senesac
   email: sales@davidsenesac.com

return to home page