A Hellish ‘New Normal’

The National Grape Research Alliance is based in Sacramento, California, two hours from Sonoma County, where the Kincade Fire has been burning since October 23. At this writing, the fire has scorched nearly 77,000 acres–an area more than twice the size of San Francisco, according to The New York Times. Gusty winds and kindling-dry conditions trigger “red flag” warnings daily, and the local electric provider, Pacific Gas and Electric, is routinely implementing blackouts throughout the state in an effort to prevent further fires.

It’s unreal.

Thankfully, 92% of Sonoma’s crop had been harvested when the blaze broke out, as Sonoma County Winegrowers reports, and the fire is largely in rural, less populous areas. The Wine Institute, an NGRA member-organization, notes that vineyards serve as firebreaks in wildfires, due to their high moisture content, helping to save structures and homes. But other good news is in short supply.

Headlines and news articles are calling the situation in California a hellish “new normal.” Experts warn that, with climate change, we will see increasing incidence and severity of wildfires here in the West, as well as hurricanes in the Southeast, freeze events in the Northeast and Midwest, and other billion-dollar weather disasters, as cataloged by the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information.

What is to be done? NGRA can help to ensure more research is focused on meeting climate change head-on by spurring research focused not only on natural resources and the environment–an existing priority area–but also built into projects in genetics and grapevine improvement and integrated production systems, and strongly supported by extension and outreach. But science is a long game. Solutions are possible, but research takes time.

In the meantime, our hearts are with our colleagues and friends in Sonoma County and other affected areas. Let us not forget, this is anything but normal.