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Will there be a ‘superbloom’ in California this year? Here’s what you need to know

Carpets of yellow, orange and gold flowers are beginning to cover the vast deserts of Southern California, the dramatic cliffs of the Bay Area and even near Los Angeles International Airport.

But do they together form a ‘superbloom’? There’s no single definition of the event, but so far this year’s blooms haven’t been as vibrant or abundant as those that took over parts of California last spring after drought-ravaging rains. This year too, the state received sufficient winter rains.

After particularly wet winters, bursts of color can appear in spring, drawing large numbers of visitors to California and other parts of the Southwest to glimpse the blooming fields and pose for photos.

Here are some important facts about the natural spectacle:

WHAT IS A SUPERBLOOM?

Scientists do not agree on any definition. Throughout California and Arizona, there are vast areas of desert that can quickly turn into dense fields of wildflowers as the seeds lie dormant in the ground and then germinate and bloom around the same time.

A recent study found that such widespread blooms, which have been visible through satellite images for several years, occur after seasons with more than 30% average precipitation, said Naomi Fraga, director of conservation programs at the California Botanic Garden, east of Los Angeles. .

DOES THIS YEAR COUNT?

No, according to Fraga. That’s because there isn’t tremendous diversity in the flowers that have bloomed in places like Death Valley, California.

This year’s blooms are not as large or as dense as the wildflowers of years past, she said.

“When I think of beautiful flowers, I think of a bloom that is so extraordinary, that is a unique event,” Fraga said, adding that this year’s wildflower show is “still a beautiful show.”

Last spring, visitors to the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve in Southern California were treated to dazzling orange displays of the state flower in early April. But around the same time this year, the fields were absent of orange blooms, with reserve officials posting that the window for an impressive show was “getting closer.”

In Death Valley, one of the driest places on earth, vast deserts are speckled with gold thanks to sunflowers that emerged after a particularly wet winter and spring.

Whether that’s a beautiful loom really depends on the eye of the beholder, says Evan Meyer, executive director of the California-based nonprofit Theodore Payne Foundation, which works to preserve California’s native plants.

WHEN DOES IT HAPPEN?

April is typically the peak month for spring wildflowers, but in high elevations they may continue to bloom later into the spring.

Superblooms generally refer to low-lying desert areas, Fraga said.

“It’s much more geographical than seasonal,” Meyer said. “Spring in the mountains has not yet begun, and in the low desert it is past its peak.”

When temperatures rise in the desert, the flowers can dry out quickly.

HOW DOES CLIMATE CHANGE AFFECT SUPERBLOOM?

Experts say it may be too early to tell.

Climate change is making precipitation patterns more erratic, but the effects on wildflowers can extend over decades or even centuries, Fraga said, because seeds remain dormant in the soil for long periods.

Southern California received heavy rain last summer, in contrast to typically dry summers, which she said likely encouraged flowers to sprout out of season. Winter temperatures were also warmer than average, allowing many of them to remain in bloom throughout the spring.

“That made for a very unusual bloom,” Fraga said.

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The Associated Press receives support from the Walton Family Foundation for reporting on water and environmental policy. The AP is solely responsible for all content. For all of AP’s environmental coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/climate-and-environment

Suman Naishadham, The Associated Press