Upfront: The elementals

Upfront: The elementals

It was a big year for natural-world news in the North Bay

A surfer waits for waves in Bolinas, where the water is higher than it has been in years.

By Tom Gogola

The North Bay looks to the new year as 2015 departs like Godzilla.

That is, the promised Godzilla of El Niño, which has arrived with lashing rains and high winds and the potential to quench a drought that has hung since well before Bruce Jenner’s gender reassignment—one of the more notable California storylines of 2015, not to change the subject from the end of the world or anything.

The big local news stories in the North Bay took on an elemental bent in 2015: Fire and water and lots of drought-parched earth. There were massive fires in Lake County that drifted down to Napa and caused billions of dollars in damage, but not much in the way of fresh, drought-busting water to speak of until the El Niño dam burst late in the year.

Over the holiday week, any cursory review of the weather scene across the nation would have provided all the evidence one needs that freakish El Niño–inspired stuff is breaking out all over: 70 degrees on Christmas Day in New York City? That’s very unusual.

And it’s all because of the mighty Pacific Ocean, which may look the same as it always has from the shoreline, as one gazes at it in a poetic frame of mind. But the ocean has changed, is changing and will continue to change as average temperatures continue to climb and political leaders suggest that you buy a Tesla.

Polar bears are floating around on ice cubes, very sad, but the local fallout wrought by drought and global warming and El Niño has hit home, too.

Because of a persistent and huge blob of overly warm offshore waters, Californians couldn’t capture or eat the iconic and delicious Dungeness crabs this year because they might have died from domoic acid poisoning. Fishers can’t catch a salmon from creeks parched by the drought, even as Big Science pushes a genetically modified frankenfish alternative, while back in the ocean, starfish wasted away by the millions, and starving sea lion pups washed up all over the coast for lack of available food. And why is there a poisonous sea serpent in the sand that has never been seen in these parts before?

Welcome to the end times, a California of annual fires, El Niño floods, epic mudslides and chronic earthquakes ever on the horizon. The state is well-positioned for an exponential outburst of all of the above. Will someone please page Mike Davis already? Recent “king tides” washed up to ever higher points along the shoreline in Marin and Sonoma counties and provided a glimpse of what’s to come.

You don’t need to be a North Bay Nostradamus to appreciate the fragility and interconnectedness of the natural world, and how various weather-related phenomena are conspiring to wipe out the state of California, at least according to a worst-case map of scenarios that made the rounds in 2015.

The end is near! The sea is taking its vengeance! The signs are everywhere! Last week, a kayaker was sucked out of the upper reaches of Tomales Bay to a death on the ocean, a reminder of what a year it was on the bay, where dozens of people had to be rescued from certain rough-seas doom.

The end is near! The sky is bleeding chemtrails, they’re fluoridating the water and parents are whooping it up over anti-vaxxer propaganda. But even still, Sonoma and Marin counties kept on keeping on with their variously well-intentioned projects to deal with the global-warming conundrum, and possibly build a few units of affordable housing along the way.

Next-generation power is on the march, as Sonoma Clean Power celebrated its first year providing cleaner and locally produced energy to residents, and the counties are pleased to announce that the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) system might take some vehicles off of Highway 101 by next December, alleviating the crush of cars and perhaps, in the process, helping the Bay Area avoid a fate similar to that of smog-choked China.

There was some good news for those who would just as soon fire up some Mother Nature and forget the doomsday scenarios in a blizzard of Doritos and Netflix binges. The state got its medical-cannabis house in order with a set of laws signed by Governor Brown, while Marin supervisors did their part and agreed to license four medical marijuana dispensaries in that county.

Cannabis liberation seems imminent, the boutique-craft, cannabis-cafe plans are getting rolled out, and now we await the well-funded pushback campaign from the fuddy-duddies as California moves toward an expected 2016 outright-legalization vote, if the world hasn’t ended by then.

Now let’s all go watch Guy Fieri eat something on TV.

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