Posted by: Brad Nixon | November 20, 2015

Wintering In

As the dark days descend and El Niño gathers strength in the Pacific, we’re preparing for a dire winter here in southern California.

To the north, up in the Sierras, they have a head start on snowfall, with one recent storm delivering 20 inches. There, of course, they do have serious winter in terms everyone understands: heavy snow, cold, and all the attendant joys (skiing) and pain (dead batteries, frozen pipes, snow chains, etc.).

Here near sea level, it’s not such a severe climate, and life is predicated on the assumption that we’re immune from certain extremes. If we experienced a hard freeze, for example, it would be a catastrophe. Hundreds of thousands of southern California homes and commercial buildings — at least those of a certain age — have virtually no insulation, and there would be untold damage from frozen water lines, alone. Tens of thousands of houses have their water heaters in unheated garages or in little closets accessed from the exterior, and those lines would be at risk.

What if it snowed? Forget it. Life would come to a standstill. We’re not engineered to handle heavy rainfall very effectively here, and even the slightest accumulation of snow would mean the end of life as we know it, which is to say living in our cars, driving from one place to another. We’re better-prepared to deal with earthquakes than we are with a hard freeze or snow.

Here at UWS headquarters, Rancho Retro, prepping for winter consists of preparing for heavy rain:

  • Cleaning out the gutters.
  • Moving the woodpile into the garage.

Woodpile? Yes, we have a fireplace. It’s not as crazy as you may think. Tens of thousands of southern California dwellings have them, including apartments.

I vividly remember, as a kid in the frozen Midwest, watching an interview with some celebrity on television one bitter January day. He was sitting in his sunny California living room. In the background there was a fire blazing in the fireplace. I considered that the height of pretension. Little did I know. Now I have one. Here’s the fireplace at Rancho Retro, ready for that first deep blast of winter cold:

IMG_2631

In those days, the presence of thousands of fireplaces contributing to the already dire atmosphere of smog-ridden LA was, really, the height of irresponsibility. It’s still not the best possible idea, although subsequent decades have brought radical improvement to our air quality. There are some controls, administered by the South Coast Air Quality Management District. If the air quality’s bad, we get “burn bans.” One can check the status on this Check Before You Burn map. There are an increasing number of restrictions against including fireplaces in new construction, too.

For me, moving the (small) woodpile into the attached garage spares me the agony of trudging through a dark and stormy California night, with the ññtemperature plunging into the 40s and rain falling, to get another log for the fire.

We may, indeed, get a monumental amount of rain during the predicted El Niño-powered rainy season. Reportedly, every roofing contractor in the area is working overtime now to meet the advanced demand to fix roofs not severely tested by recent years of nearly no rain. An intense rainy season will still see the blooming of tarp-covered roofs as described years ago during a previous El Niño, HERE.

If you want to send us a happy thought, we need snow in the mountains to fill our reservoirs. Rain here on the plain simply runs into the ocean, and does little or nothing to assuage the long-term drought. If you want more almonds and avocados and tomatoes and oranges from California, pray for snow in the Sierras. Thank you.

© 2015 Brad Nixon

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