California Drought Causing Weather Extremes in Central Valley

Weather extremes triggered by the prolonged drought have caused much of the damage to crops in California’s Central Valley in addition to lack of waters, says Doug Benik, a farmer and crop insurance agent from Fresno County.

While most assume that the absence of rainfall is largely behind much of the crop damage and losses in California, much of it has actually been caused by the absence of any moisture in the air – due to a lack of rainfall – that has produced weather extremes the area rarely sees. “The lack of moisture in the air allows air temperatures to get much colder in the winter and much hotter in the summer,” said Benik.  “And it prevents the cooling fogs from forming when many of the area’s trees need those conditions during the winter,” he said.

“For many farmers, the incredibly dry air is causing more damage than lack of water,” he said.   The drought, which is now in its third year, has forced many of the areas farmers, who grow all types of crops, to dig deeper wells in hopes of hitting more reliable water tables.

Benik, a second-generation farmer, said that for most of his life, farming in this area was much less stressful.  “This area of the Central Valley is an agricultural center because it is blessed with adequate water from a dependable rainy season in most years,” he said.   “And while we don’t receive adequate rainfall during the summer to sustain crops and trees, much of the water we need comes from the snowpack in the mountains,” he said.   “Unfortunately, this year, that snowpack never materialized, and moisture over the previous two years was subpar as well.”

Benik says that luckily, most of the area’s farmers have been purchasing crop insurance for years.  “Crop insurance has provided some peace of mind for many of our growers,” he said.  “Some growers will collect due to drought this year and that will save them.”

The drought is now in its third year, and the area farmers are keeping their fingers crossed that normal rainfall patterns return soon.  “This past year, some of the irrigation systems were denied water at the last minute, and that’s something we’ve never faced,” he said.

But if rainfall doesn’t return, Benik expects to see more deep wells go in this year to deal with it.   Either way, he says farmers will likely continue to purchase crop insurance to protect them from some, or part, of what Mother Nature has in store for them.