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April 1, 2023

There’s Snow on Them Thar Hills

Some area schools get rare ‘snow day’

Epic conditions in Sonoma County this past week. Snow warnings for one to two feet possible at elevations above 1,500 feet. Healdsburg’s elevation is 100 feet, Cloverdale’s about 350 and Hopland’s 500. 

Snow the prior week fell to about the 300 foot elevation, and four to six inches closed Cloverdale schools. Highway 101 was closed last Thursday between Willits and Cummings. On Friday, Interstate 80 to Tahoe was closed. 

Tahoe received over 450 inches of snow this year, which compares to a 360 inch seasonal average. The Sierras may be on pace to exceed a recent 600 inch inch season in 2016/17.  

The picture above shows the Alexander Valley with snow levels below 1,000 feet in the background and Spanish moss, a semi-tropical plant, hanging in the foreground. Amazing variety of conditions in Sonoma County.

Fun facts: Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) is not moss, nor fungus, nor lichen, nor from Spain. It is, in fact, native to North America and related to pineapples. 

A member of the Bromeliaceae family, more commonly known as bromeliads, Spanish moss is an epiphyte, which means a plant that grows on the surface of another plant. Host plants are technically known as phorophytes, and Spanish moss is commonly found on cypress and live oaks, both southern and coastal. 

As a hanging plant, Spanish moss has a greatly reduced root system, mostly used for holding on. Its leaves, long and stringy, are designed to absorb water from the air. Hairlike in appearance but not structure, they have an open scale-like lattice composition, making them highly absorbent. 

The long leaves were used as substrate in evaporative coolers, where water pumped onto a pad of Spanish moss evaporated while a fan pulled air through for cooling. These devices were also known as “swamp coolers.”

White-out is a term applied to blizzard conditions with low visibility. It is also the colloquial name of a product used to correct typing errors when typewriter keys manually tapped an inked ribbon. First known by the name “Mistake Out,” it was later patented as “Liquid Paper.” 

The product was invented by a single mother working as a typist in a Dallas bank, struggling to raise her young son, Michael. She was fired for her efforts. Fourteen years later in 1979, she sold the company to Gillette for $47.5 million. 

That woman was Bette Nesmith Graham, mother of Michael Nesmith of The Monkees musical group.


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