It didn’t snow in San Francisco—not really—or anywhere else near sea level late last week. Boo hoo. Let’s get over it.

But it was cold, and that brought a set of concerns unrelated to impromptu wintry recreation. Temperatures in the Central Valley were forecast to fall into the mid- to low 20s, and that could have been a disaster for the state’s No. 1 cash crop, almonds. But people watching the state’s almond orchards are guardedly optimistic today that the cold didn’t inflict severe damage on the crop. Blossoms are susceptible to freezing below 28 degrees Fahrenheit and new almonds can be frozen and killed at 30.

KQED’s Central Bureau chief, Sasha Khokha, talked to Vincent Richhuti, a grower with orchards in Fresno and Madera counties. He said he was assessing his crop’s condition, but that any damage would show itself soon.

“You can actually take the blossoms off the tree, cut them open with just your finger.And look inside. If it’s green, you’re OK,” Ricchuti said. “If it’s black, you’ve got freeze damage.”

Farther north, almonds seem to have survived the weekend without obvious harm. Monique Garcia of the Esparto Chamber of Commerce said farmers in the Capay Valley in western Yolo County had reported Monday their trees and blossoms appeared to be fine after the freeze.

Joe Connell, with the University of California Cooperative Extension program in Butte County–that’s in the northern Sacramento Valley–said most growers there have “solid-set” sprinkler systems for frost protection. He said morning temperatures never got as cold as forecast—”At 22 degrees, we would have been toast”—and that sprinklers gave enough protection to prevent the crop from major damage.

But Connell and others said that the weather throughout the second half of February could have an impact on the 2011 almond crop. Honeybees don’t like to fly in rain or freezing temperatures, and that is likely to delay the cross-pollination that almonds require.


Dan Brekke

Dan Brekke (Twitter: @danbrekke) has worked in media ever since Nixon's first term, when newspapers were still using hot type. He had moved on to online news by the time Bill Clinton met Monica Lewinsky. He's been at KQED since 2007, is an enthusiastic practitioner of radio and online journalism and will talk to you about absolutely anything. Reach Dan Brekke at

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