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Sunday, December 12, 1982

Prospects of a Wet Winter

Ernest D. Wichels

It was writer Charles Dudley warner who wrote: “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”

There is one thing on which everyone, thus far this year, will agree: It has been wet. In fact, according to the Mare Island Naval Shipyard rainfall figures, it has been a record up to Dec. 1.  It rained more than 9 inches to Dec. 1, exceeding the previous record of 8.5 inches in 1926, and some 2 inches ahead of 1981. And remember, winter doesn’t officially begin for another two weeks.

Does this wet fall portend another wet year? History tells us it may go either way.  Last year’s wet fall did, indeed, lead to a totally wet year.  And in 1926-27, mentioned above, the total seasonal rainfall went to 25 inches, against a local 110-year average of about 7½ inches. In the falls of 1890 and 1929, hardly a trace of rain fell before Dec. 1, yet the annual totals were about 16 and 14 inches, respectively.

In the five-year stretch of 1905 to 1909, the total Dec. 1 rainfall, for all five years combined, was less than 8 inches (an inch less than we’ve had in the current year). Yet the seasonal average for these five years exceeded 18 inches.  We’ll just have to wait until winter is over (March 21) to know what the figures are. And then Vallejo’s most able weather statistician, Roger Cunningham, will tell us what went into the record book. After more than 50 years’ summer sojourn in the Tahoe area, we learned that the natives were always guessing on the winter, and basing it on how many nuts the chipmunks and squirrels stored during the fall.

They were usually wrong. From actual observance we learned otherwise. The storage of nuts depends entirely on the availability of nuts. We have never seen a chipmunk or a squirrel cease to gather nuts (or grab one from your fingers). So long as a single nut remains within reach, the rodent will stow it.  Speaking of weather, last Thursday was the 10th anniversary of the devastating freeze of Dec. 9, 1972. Remember when most of the plants in Vallejo, many palms and scores of eucalyptus trees to say nothing of garden flowers were killed or injured by that cold snap?

And, just 50 years ago, in 1932, when even Vallejo had a snowfall, widespread damage resulted from the freeze. One sad example was Fair Oaks, east of Sacramento, and the Oroville area. These communities represented the center of Northern California’s navel orange industry. The citrus groves were wiped out.

One of the surest symbols of the approaching holiday season are the tinkling bells of the Salvation Army representatives as they stand beside their kettles and thank the citizens for their generosity, the promise of a Christmas dinner for the less fortunate and toys for the children.  Although the Salvation Army started in England 116 years ago, the worldwide symbol of the kettle was born right here in San Francisco in the- year 1890.  In that season, during a cold winter and an economic depression, the Salvation Army dining room tan out of food. Taking a large, empty kettle from the kitchen out to the sidewalk, the army asked the citizens of .San Francisco to bring food to “fill our kettles again.”
It has been a symbol of the season ever since.

In January 1893, the Salvation Army established its first headquarters in Vallejo, meeting in Clavo’s Hall, in the 200-block of Georgia Street.

December anniversaries:

“¢ It was on a Sunday evening, 104 years ago on Dec. 8, 1878, the first home of the Methodist Church burned in Vallejo. A plaque marks the site at 420 Virginia St.

“¢ Napa and Solano counties were finally joined by steam passenger service 113 years ago. The last rail on the Napa-Vallejo Steam Railroad (later the California Pacific, and today the Southern Pacific) was laid on Dec. 19, 1868.  The tracks were finally completed to Calistoga and for more than 50 years the citizens of the two counties enjoyed frequent (two round trips daily by steam rail-way, and, beginning in 1904, six round trips daily by electric railway) and comfortable transportation up and down the valley.

“¢ Two newspapers were born in this month of December. The Solano Democrat, opened in Vallejo Dec. 4, 1869; later moved to Suisun City. On Dec. 17, 1877, the Benicia New Era issued its first edition.

“¢ The state’s first Masonic Temple, a structure built for that express purpose, was dedicated in Benicia Dec. 27, 1850. It still stands, and is California State Landmark No. 174.

“¢ Mare Island’s first “modern” ship, the collier Prometheus, was launched Dec. 5, 1908. It was (unfortunately) a very warm December day and the lunch-eon prepared for several thousand in Alden Park (in the sun) developed some side-effects that caused illness to a hundred or more.

“¢ A new “first” for local mechanics was recorded when on Dec. 22, 1908, Mare Island completed the conversion of the monitor Wyoming (later the USS Cheyenne) from a coal burner to an oil burner, the first in the nation.