Visiting winter in the Topa Topas after the fire

Though it’s been three months since the Thomas Fire, those of us in the burn zone can still see the blackness on the burned hillsides all around Ojai, all the way up to the ridge of our local mountains, the Topa Topas.

Every winter for twenty-five years I have gone up to our mountains after a snow in search of the physical manifestation of winter, a rare and precious substance in Southern California. This past week it snowed on Tuesday and a little bit more on Thursday. You could see it from town.  Because this was a cold system from the Arctic, the snow lingered, or so I hoped, and so on Saturday I went up to the ridge at about 5700 feet, to try and touch the whiteness for myself, and reassure myself winter still existed.

This year, as this graphic from climatologist Bill Patzert and the LA Times shows, we have had virtually nothing in the way of precipitation this winter in Southern California.

I”Last winter was a temporary respite,” climatologist Patzert said to the LA Times. “People are too quick to call an end to the drought. Droughts don’t come and go in one year…When you call an end to the drought after one wet year, that’s false hope.”


In fact, according to Judah Cohen, a climatologist with MIT who specializes in polar weather and its influence, only the rare split of the polar vortex this month, leading to the so-called “Beast of the East” in Europe, and a surprising snow in the Sierras, which “to some extent saved the winter” in the West.

The walk up to the bluffs at about 6000 feet showed a lot of bleak vistas, and at the top, there was a little storm, of what I would describe as miniature hail. Tiny stones, about the size of pinheads, falling in a blustery wind. Look closely at this picture from Saturday and you can see them. This is winter 2018 in Southern California.


Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

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