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Spring has sprung in Sonoma County but more rain on the way

After nearly two weeks of sunny, warm weather in the North Bay, and with the spring equinox arriving at 3:28 a.m. today, the signs of spring are unmistakable, from lambs frolicking on the green hills to the green garlic and asparagus popping up in the fields.

“Wild iris and lupine are up everywhere,” said Dana Gioia of Santa Rosa, the state’s Poet Laureate, responding to an email on his thoughts of spring.

“The rosemary and pride of Madeira are blooming and bringing in great swarms of bees and the first butterflies as well as some hummingbirds . . . everything is growing and fighting and mating.”

It seems everyone’s been outside — locals and tourists biking, gardening, hiking, imbibing — as temperatures for most of the past 10 days managed to stay in the 70s with comparatively minimal rain . . . at least compared to January and February. The former, with 18.96 inches of rain, was the wettest in more than a century; the latter brought 14.96 inches.

Together, they’re chiefly responsible for Santa Rosa’s 52.71 inch rainfall total since Oct. 1 being within shouting distance of the wettest rain year on record: 55.68 inches in 1982-1983.

Lest you think you’ve seen the last of the rain, the National Weather Service is predicting the North Bay hills will get 1 to 2 inches of rain through Tuesday and another 1 to 2 inches by Saturday, with the Santa Rosa Plain receiving slightly less than that.

“The storms are not going to be as strong as the January and February storms,” NWS forecaster Steve Anderson said. “The one on Thursday and Friday will be the strongest, with strong, gusty winds.”

Still, the plants at King’s Nursery and elsewhere in Santa Rosa and waking up and growing rapidly, which means manager Cindy Stewart thinks people should still get outdoors, even if it’s just to pull weeds between the raindrops.

“Now is a nice time to weed because the ground is soft enough,” she said. “If you wait too long, they will seed out again.”

Still, Stewart warned home gardeners that it’s not quite time to plant the tender, summer starts like tomatoes or basil, suggesting to hold off until about mid-April, when the chance of frost has passed.

At the Sebastopol Farmers Market Sunday, the shoulder season was greeted with shorts and tank tops, cowboy boots and fingerless gloves as the sun peeked coyly from behind the clouds. Recent transplants LaDeana Jeanne and Ty Blazina of Sebastopol said they spent Saturday building raised beds to grow their own food. The pair moved to the county in January from the icy outpost of Billings, Montana.

“In Montana, we wouldn’t be thinking about this until June,” Blazina said. “When we left Montana in January to move here, it was minus 20 degrees.”

Sebastopol Farmers Market Manager Carla Rosin said many local farmers were hit hard by the heavy winter rainfall this winter, which flooded their fields and prevented them from planting. Some of the farms, such as Foggy River Farm, are only selling every other week.

“We had a lot of flooding, so there is limited availability of fresh produce,” said Emmett Hopkins of Foggy River, while selling his last bunch of asparagus.

Liam Callahan of Bellwether Farms in Petaluma knows all about what too much rain can do.

The creamery, which has its own herd of 300 sheep, had its challenges.

The driveway developed a huge pothole, turning back some delivery trucks. During the lambing season from November through February, about 300 lambs came into the world at Bellwether. When it’s raining hard, that can lead to a higher mortality rate, Callahan said. Rain also makes the barns harder to manage, with confused lambs and ewes huddling together rather than bonding in pairs out in the field.

Sonoma County Tourism Public Relations Manager Birgitt Vaughan said the winter rains did enhance the lush, green hills and scenic beauty of Sonoma County, and that’s good for business.

“It’s not just the wine,” she said. “The wildflower season this year . . . will go through the roof.“

This summer marks the 50th anniversary of Sonoma County Regional Parks and the fifth anniversary of the Green Music Center at Sonoma State University. It also marks the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love in San Francisco, which is a season ahead but still something to look forward to.

“Our counterpart in the city is promoting that big-time this year,” Vaughan said.

“We hope that we get people to come to Sonoma County and . . . feel the Summer of Love again. It makes sense that we got so much rain this year, for the flower children.”

Reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 707-521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @dianepete56.