Sunday Feb 17, 2008

Freak Valentine's Day Snowstorm

Every once in a while, they get it wrong.  Very wrong.  As a rancher, I tend to pay attention to the weather report. Though it doesn't rain very often in Southern California, it can still ruin your day, or at least make ranch chores a messy endeavor. This week had been a more typical week, mostly sunny, highs in the 60s-70s, lows in the 40s, last week's rains a distant memory. Today's forecast was more of the same, with a slight chance of drizzle in the morning as a cold front passed. "No big deal!" claimed meteorologist John Coleman. So, when morning came with a light sprinkle, we weren't really surprised. If it drizzles down at Lindbergh Field, where the official San Diego weather is measured, it might sprinkle up here in the mountains. No big deal. 

By lunchtime I figure we had about 1/4 of an inch of rain and was beginning to wonder when the sun would break through the clouds and bring the promised 70 degrees of sunshine. Alas, it was still mostly cloudy. Regina went into town to run some errands, while I joined a conference call.  During the call, I noticed that the wind was picking up, mostly from the northeast.  Normally when the winds blow from the northeast, the deserts, they are dry and will clear up any fog or drizzle rather quickly. But I noticed that during the conference call, it sounded like hail was hitting the window.

Then the lightning started.  OK, that was odd.  Sure we do get a thunderstorm every once in a while, and pea-sized hail often accompanies them. The wind was blowing stronger now and I was beginning to think that the drizzle forecast was a bit optimistic. One hour on the conference call down, hopefully we'll wrap up soon.

Suddenly, Regina burst into the office amongst a flurry of snow and ice, looking like Nanook coming in from a blizzard.
What the...?

"Hi sweetie!  Is it hail?"

"No! It is snowing and icing and I had to park down at the barn and walk up the hill to the house!"

Snow?!?  Sure enough, behind Regina it looked rather... white.  How can this be?  Forecast partly sunny, 70s.

After the call, I trudged outside to see what was up.  Sure enough, snow everywhere.  The wind was howling, and more snow was coming.  Absolutely no sign of the sun.  Rats!  I don't even like snow!

A quick look towards the highway confirmed that everything was falling apart. The few intrepid travelers were trying to negotiate the curves without kissing the boulders, and I knew my plans were dashed.  I had everything worked out well in advance. Conference call after lunch. Regina off running errands.  A quick dash into town to pick up the Valentine's Day flowers and gift.  Swing by the grocery for some fresh seafood and a nice bottle of wine. Dinner was going to be awesome, followed by sweet kisses. Now this. Snow!  If I wanted to live were it snowed, I would live somewhere else.  In the eight years here at the ranch, we'd only seen a few dustings at this altitude, nothing that would stick. It was nearly 70 degrees yesterday, there is no way this would stick, or so I hoped.

Now, I had to work on plan B. As a RAS guy, I always have a plan B and plan C, just in case, with a plan D for dire emergencies. We started the evening chores early, even though it was still snowing and blowing. By dusk it had mostly stopped snowing at the ranch as the storm passed to the south. I took a picture of Swanson, our Black Swan, who was not at all happy with the weather.

Swanson and the snow


Well, Valentine's dinner worked out ok. The flowers were a day late, but still pretty. We received about three inches of slushy snow, most of which melted before freezing later in the evening. The surprise snowstorm caused a bunch of accidents and stranded hundreds of motorists. The really odd thing was that none of the weather forecasters saw it coming. I'm sure they will blame the forecasting models or data collection, but at the end of the day, Swanson still won't believe them... they just blew it.


Wednesday Nov 07, 2007

Life after the Witch Creek fire

Life is a long way from normal here in Ramona. 

We are still without electricity, and may not have any until the 11th of this month at the earliest. Cold showers are getting a bit old! Fortunately, we can come to one of our favorite hangouts, the Ramona Cafe, and get online somewhat regularly.

We can't thank our family, friends, work associates, etc enough for all your phone calls and e-mails. It really means more than you know. If you have tried to call and haven't reached us, don't worry, we are still spending most of our time outside as usual. Without electricity, we can't run an answering machine.

We hope that this picture will give some of you an idea of why we felt our ranch would be okay. This pic is taken from across the valley--way across the valley. As you can tell, our pastures/barns/home etc are all kept very clear, and very clean. The big dirt lot next to the house is our cow pasture.  The girls keep it nice and trimmed. We knew our animals would be safest right here at home. However, we don't suggest anyone else try to stay home with their critters--it was not fun watching the flames run down the fenceline and devour most of our neighbors' homes. What you don't see in this picture is several homes which used to be here.

 The Ranch from across the way

And just to answer a couple of FAQs:

NO, the animals did not panic. Not at all. Some of them watched the fire go by, a few just kept on eating their dinner. These guys felt safe in part because we didn't panic. And living where we do, they have seen tons of fire engines, cops, wrecks, fires and even helicopter landings. We told them they would be okay, and they believed us!

What about the smoke? Answer---What smoke? When the winds are between 70-80 mph, trust us, there is no smoke!
It just flies right by!

What about the embers? Well, we fought them. Thankfully, there weren't too many. And yes, it was scary, hot, dirty, and generally unpleasant. We don't recommend it for a first date...

What about the animals? Once again, they are FINE. Yep, all of them. Seriously. And, of course, we have lots of extra guests at the moment. Our current project--trying to corral a herd of wild goats that suddenly appeared on the hillside. Never a dull moment!

Why don't we have a generator? We do. Two, in fact. We are using them to run the pumps and such so that we keep fresh water for the animals. That's our primary focus right now.

What about the wildlife? Good and bad news. We are a haven for all kinds of wildlife at the moment, especially birds. And that pesky bobcat. The bad news--lots of small animals lost their lives in this fire. We forgive the bobcat--he lost his mate.

Ramona is slowly trying to recover. We are more fortunate than many of our friends, who lost homes and animals, too. At least the armed guards patrolling the town are gone and most of the roads are open. So don't be shy about traveling up to Julian for those hot apple pies and antiques. And on your way, stop in the Ramona Cafe, or as we now call it, our flexible office!


 -- richard and regina

PS for more Witch Creek Fire coverage visit the Ramona Home Journal 



Sunday Oct 28, 2007

Dirt don't burn

We really appreciate all of the well wishes, comments, and offers for help after the Witch Fire burned through the ranch. It has been 7 days since it started and I am just now able to get time to get on the 'net and see how many e-mails I'm behind on (1,745). We've still got a lot of work to do around the ranch to get things back to normal and we may be without power for another week or two.  I could really use a hot shower. Here is a picture of the ranch taken from the hill behind us.

Richard's Ranch after the Witch Fire 

You can see that the fire burned right up to the back pasture's horse fence. We had a few small fires in the llama pasture, but they didn't cause any real concern. In the distance you can see some hot spots still burning.  The rocks in the foreground are scorched. A week later, and there are still a few hot spots around.

In case you are wondering, all of the animals are fine.  It will take a while to repair the damage, though. Most of my neighbors have lost their homes and the community of Ramona is rallying to help.

Wednesday Apr 25, 2007

It gets worse when...

It is bad when someone wakes you from a deep slumber at 2:00 in the morning.

It gets worse when that someone is a policeman.

It gets worse when he asks, "do you have any cows?"  Groggily, I answer, "yes."

It gets worse when he says, "there is about a half dozen cows loose on the highway."  Suddenly, and without coffee, I am wide awake.  We have a half dozen cows in the pasture near the highway.

It gets worse when he says, "see that car spun off the road in the ditch?"  In the distance I see a car with its blinkers on.

It gets worse when he says, "the car clipped a cow and spun out."  I've seen pictures of livestock vs. automobile encounters and they are suddenly recalled from the depths of my memory.

It gets better when he says, "everybody seems to be ok."  Whew!

It gets worse when he asks, "can you get the cows out of the highway?"  "Sure!"

I put on my boots, grab some lights, and jump the in the Calabaza. The policeman heads down to the highway to deal with the wrecker arriving to extract the car from the ditch.

I drive into the pasture to see if the fence is broken and accidentally drop my flashlight.  I jump out to retrieve the flashlight and hear an inquisitive "moo?"  I scan the pasture and see 12 green eyeballs staring at me.  "Got hay?" they ask.  Whew, the girls are safe.

We rounded up the wandering bovines and moved them to a safe area and began looking for their home. To our surprise, we couldn't find a broken fence or open gate.  We did find evidence that they had traveled about  a half mile down the highway, though.  By 4:30 AM we decided that we would continue to look for their home after sunrise and went back to bed.  The story is getting better, now, but...

It gets worse when you sleep through the alarm and miss your 8:00 AM conference call...





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