Could recent rains give way to a California superbloom?
A California superbloom typically occurs about once every decade, and the conditions could turn out just right this year.
It’s a superbloom unlike any other in Southern California. Poppies are literally popping up everywhere in the city of Lake Elsinore.
Once this record-breaking rainy season comes to a close, Californians might get to experience a spectacle that only happens when the right conditions are in place. California's water-soaked soil has created ideal conditions for a superbloom of wildflowers, but experts warn it might not measure up to years past.
A superbloom is a rare botanical occurrence where dormant seeds of native wildflowers all sprout at the same time across California's desert and grasslands. Different from the typical wildflower season, a superbloom transforms the region into a brilliant display of colors.
"To get a superbloom season you need good rainfall throughout the winter and spring, warm weather, and a limited number of wind events," AccuWeather Meteorologist Scott Homan said.
While a large swath of California did receive record-breaking rainfall during the first month of the year, areas in Southern California, such as the Mojave Desert and Death Valley, will still need to pick up some more wet weather for conditions to really blossom.
"While rainfall has been plentiful in many locations, [those locations] are not at the level of 2016 or 2019," Homan said. "We will have to see as we head into early March as it continues to warm and whether the current rainfall was enough to provide an exceptional year."
The most recent superbloom occurred in 2019, and some will argue it was the most beautiful the Golden State has seen in years. The typically dry, tan landscape was transformed with purple sand verbenas, blonde dandelions and apricot-colored poppies.
Wildflowers flourished in the early spring of 2019 thanks to a particularly wet season in California that delivered steady rainfall from November to March. There were so many visitors that the town of Lake Elsinore was overwhelmed. Bracing for this year's superbloom, on Feb. 2, 2023, officials closed the road to the trail where visitors had swarmed in 2019, according to the Los Angeles Times.
In 2017, another superbloom transformed the desert landscape into a rich array of colors. An unusually wet winter brought heavy rain to California after a prolonged drought, which led to an impressive superbloom in March 2017.
Conditions were so vibrant that they could be seen from space. NASA's Landsat 8 satellite captured a greening landscape, which was due to the influx of plant life around Anza-Borrego Desert State Park located in Southern California.
BORREGO SPRINGS, CA - MARCH 27: General views of the California desert superbloom taking place in Anza-Borrego on March 27, 2019, in Borrego Springs, California. (Photo by AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)
Historical observations suggest these conditions have lined up every decade or so, during years where there was a moderate to strong El Niño pattern. During an El Niño pattern, the United States' West, specifically Southern California, tends to receive more rainfall.
It has also been noted that climate change likely impacts the frequency of superblooms, according to National Geographic. Instead of a steady rainfall during the winter months, record-breaking rainfall events, much like the ones that delivered a year's worth of rain to some California towns and cities in January, are washing away the billions of seeds that lay dormant across Southern California.
Heat waves, which are typical during the summer months, are now occurring in the winter, jumpstarting the germination process of these seeds at the wrong time.
“That’s all making it harder on the native wildflowers,” Naomi Fraga, a botanist at the California Botanic Garden told National Geographic. “I have a lot of respect for these [native] plants, but in some ways they’re kind of wimpy. They’re not strong competitors."
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