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January 9, 2012
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Dry Calif weather leads to poor air, fire danger

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - An unusually dry winter has spelled trouble for parts of California.

Air quality in the San Francisco Bay area and Central Valley is the poorest it's been in years. State fire officials have warned of an increased fire danger in Northern California, and ski resorts in the Sierras have been forced to turn to artificial snow.

December was among the driest on record in Northern California. The state Department of Water Resources reported the snowpack water content throughout the Sierra at 19 percent of the average for early January.

And rain is not in the forecast for at least the next week, according to the National Weather Service.

The lack of rainfall and wind has kept car exhaust and smoke from factories and chimneys in place, leading to repeated violations of federal health standards for fine particle pollution in the San Francisco Bay area and Central Valley.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District has banned wood burning 12 times since Nov. 1 because of concerns about air quality.

District spokeswoman Lisa Fasano said the air on Christmas Day - one of the days wood burning was banned - rivaled the summer of 2008, when wildfires across California filled the sky with smoke.

"It's fine for the people who have an OK respiratory system, but for children, the elderly and people who have respiratory problems it is potentially dangerous," Fasano told the San Francisco Chronicle.

The bad air is also creating bad blood between neighbors. The air district says complaints about potential violations of the ban are up compared to last year, with some 400 people reporting smoke coming out of a neighbor's chimney over the Christmas weekend alone.

The lack of precipitation has also raised the fire danger, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection has said.

The agency said it responded to more wildfires in December than usual. It has increased staffing, cancelled burn days and even banned debris burning.

The dry weather follows abundant precipitation last year, when Sierra ski resorts enjoyed one of the snowiest winters in decades.

Tahoe City, Calif., located on Lake Tahoe's northwest shore, had 11.4 inches of precipitation in December last year. It only received a trace of that this December.

For most Sierra ski resorts, that has meant turning to expensive snow-making machines to keep the slopes running.

"Certainly there is a cost of putting man-made snow on the ground," Andy Chapman, chief marketing officer for the North Lake Tahoe Chamber of Commerce, told the Chronicle last month. "Obviously the resorts have done this for years and years, understand risk-benefit ratio, and have decided it's well worth it."

Southern California, meanwhile, has enjoyed record-high temperatures. About a dozen places broke records on Thursday, including the University of California, Los Angeles at 86 degrees. San Diego's Lindbergh Field had 83, snapping a 1969 record by 3 degrees.


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Jan 9, 2012 01:22PM Published Jan 9, 2012 01:21PM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.