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It is gorgeous all over the Bay Area, and that worries fruit grower Andy Mariani. Winter? He blinked, and it was gone -- evaporated by our warmest January on record.

Average high temperatures around the region this month have soared about 7 to 8 degrees above normal, triggering an explosion of bright red buds on the tips of the 4,000 cherry trees in Mariani's orchards in Morgan Hill. He needs 850 hours of cold temperatures to set fruit; he's had only 650.

"My trees don't like it," he said. "They need a certain amount of chill, to rest, just like we do."

Spring has sprung all over the Bay Area, despite a calendar that says we're only halfway through winter. Birds are pairing. House painters are busy. Wildflowers are blooming. The homeless stay warmer and drier. Outdoor cafes offer a balmy display of Havaianas flip-flops, cropped pants and aviator glasses.

Just how peculiar is January's weather?

  • San Jose and San Francisco topped previous high-temperature records by 4 degrees.

  • Oakland's high for the month, 77, was 20 degrees warmer than normal.

  • Around the Bay Area, cities broke high-temperature records 18 out of 30 days. Fourteen of those days were consecutive.


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    It's also been one of the driest Januaries, too. Santa Cruz has had less rain this season than Death Valley. Only 1.34 inches have fallen since July in normally wet Surf City; Furnace Creek has had 1.43 inches.

    What's going on? A persistent high pressure system -- dubbed the "ridiculously resilient ridge" by meteorologists -- has diverted all the cold air from California and transformed Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and New York into one giant ice chest, according to meteorologist Jan Null of Golden Gate Weather Service.

    "I don't see any huge pattern shifts that will turn on the hose," he said.

    The Sierra was blanketed in white powder early Thursday, but the Department of Water Resources measured only 2 inches of snow water equivalent -- 12 percent of normal for the date.

    The warm midwinter means an early start for one of San Francisco's most breathtaking annual natural marvels, the "Magnificent Magnolias" exhibit at the Golden Gate Park's Botanical Garden, which is erupting in a fragrant riot of pink and white, curator Don Mahoney said.

    Bouquets of blossoms also are bursting at Tilden Regional Park's Botanic Garden in the north Berkeley hills, said Bart O'Brien, garden manager. Giant houndstongue? Check. Star lilies? Check. Douglas iris? Ceanothus? Check, check.

    "We're a month, even two months, early," he said. Even wildflowers such as shooting star and milkmaids are up, he said.

    December's cold snap -- remember that? -- sent most of our migrating Monarch butterflies fluttering to parts unknown, but the first butterflies of the spring season are flying into view. There's a Mourning Cloak on Gilroy's Uvas Creek and a Pygmy Blue in Alviso Marina County Park in Santa Clara County.

    Romance is well ahead of schedule for some birds. Two gorgeous broods of pied-billed grebes are paddling around Saratoga's Sanborne County Park. De Anza College raptor biologist Ryan Phillips has spotted courting northern harriers, red-tailed hawks and white-tailed kites. A pair of golden eagles in the South Bay have started a nest. They typically nest in March, April and May.

    Turtles, typically slumbering in cool winter mud, are swimming in percolation ponds.

    Winter is normally a sleepy time for the construction industry as well, where workers get paltry "show-up pay" on rainy days.

    "This has been a complete bonus for a builder," said Robert Lancer of Redwood City's Lancer Construction. "Stucco dries faster. We can paint it faster. We don't have to protect our tools. We don't have people tracking mud all over the job site."

    The homeless have fared better this month, even though waiting lists for shelters are long, said Brian Greenberg of InnVision Shelter Network, which serves Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. "We don't want their lives to be any more miserable than they already are, so the warmer weather is certainly welcomed."

    REI customers are interested in backpacking, cycling and camping; products sales in those departments are all significantly up over last year, according to Saratoga store manager Jerry McKeon.

    "There's nothing we can do but enjoy the sun," said Tawnya Sargent, strolling the beach in Santa Cruz. This winter, doing the laundry isn't so bad, said bikini-clad volleyball player Roberta McGann, "because we don't wear enough clothes."

    But underlying the balmy weather is a growing sense that something's not right.

    Without rain, the winter chorus of Pacific tree frogs has gone silent. The annual migration of newts across Tilden's South Park Drive into Wildcat Creek near Berkeley is on hiatus; last weekend, Pleasanton's "Newt Festival" was canceled. Some wells have run dry. Ski slopes are bare. Ranchers are downsizing their herds. Some cities are looking at empty reservoirs.

    President Barack Obama on Wednesday called Gov. Jerry Brown to express his concern over the historic drought here. Members of the Muslim community will gather Saturday at the Alameda County Fairgrounds to pray for rain.

    January shopping at Oakland's farmers market has meant wearing just a T-shirt, blazer, leggings and sneakers for Laura Ogle, 23. Her wool sweaters, long underwear and down jackets? "They're in the closet," she said.

    "But I long for them," she confessed. "I miss that cozy feeling."

    Staff writer Nicholas St. Fleur contributed to this report. Contact Lisa M. Krieger at 650-492-4098.