As autumn closes in on the northern hemisphere, it's nice to think back on the beauty and rebirth that occurs during the spring, when nature comes back to life following winter. In central California we see green meadows and hillsides dotted with oak trees. Purple lupines grow in profusion amidst the grasses in the meadows and other open spaces.
Because of the Mediterranean climate that dominates California, spring and autumn are polar opposites. Typified by cool, wet winters, and hot, dry summers, Mediterranean climates undergo a big shift from spring to autumn. Fueled by winter rains, spring is a time of amazing growth, and development of an emerald green mantle over the undisturbed landscape. Wildflowers spring up, trees show off a full blanket of leaves, and everything looks clean and new. But once the rains end for the year, usually in March or April, the landscape begins to change. The once green spaces begin to slowly turn brown, wildflowers die-back, and all of the plant-life begins to prepare to wait out the long dry season. By fall, the once green hills are now a shade of golden brown. The land takes on a warm bronze look. Soils are dry and so are most of the plants. This is also when hot, dry winds from the Great Basin to the east begin to flow down toward the Pacific Ocean, drying everything in their path, and raising temperatures. Besides an increase in temperatures, these winds also increase the risk of wildfires. It is in the autumn that California is most likely to burn.
Unfortunately, with the warming climate, the likelihood of wildfires in California has increased and spread to other seasons of the year. A warmer climate means less precipitation falling as snow, and thus less of a snow pack in the Sierra Nevada mountains to serve as a natural reservoir of water that would normally be released at just the right time to provide moisture for plant growth in the late spring and early summer. But as the west experiences continued drought and warming temperatures, there is less snow and the dry conditions normal to the autumn, are spreading to other parts of the year.
Short of being able to reduce the temperature increases we are experiencing, we need to plan for a future where the conditions we once took as normal are now displaced by a new normal. Our ability to adapt may be sorely tested in the coming decades. I can only hope that we can make changes and preparations now that may lessen the impact on future generations.
This image was taken with a Canon 5D MkIII dSLR with an EF 100-400 mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM lens zoomed to 100 mm. Exposure was set to 1/350 sec at f /9.5 and ISO 800.