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dry fieldThe weather has been weird this winter. From the polar vortex to bitterly cold temperatures to unseasonable highs, people throughout the world have struggled with unusual and seemingly unpredictable weather patterns. In California, the main weather-related topic is the drought, a lingering trend that is creating challenges and opportunities for marketers who provide various offerings.

Let’s start by considering just how severe this drought is. The regular measure of the snowpack (i.e., the amount of snow in the Sierra Nevada range, which melts in the spring and replenishes rivers in the area) shows that it is a mere 20 percent of the average level. A large high-pressure system that has been blocking the entire west coast has driven virtually all the rain and snow precipitation northward (creating that polar vortex), leaving none for California. Many reservoirs, which were flooded in years past to hold water, have receded so far that the tops of the buildings in these ghost towns are now visible.

For farmers and ski slopes, the drought is terrible news. Wetlands Water District officials predict that approximately 200,000 acres of land in the “nation’s breadbasket” in Fresno County simply will not be planted this year; there is no water available for farmers to water their crops. Without wild grasses growing, cattle farmers also have been forced to reduce their herds. On the ski slopes, most operations remain closed, waiting for snow to fall. For one resort that opened, the warmer weather created a new threat: A bear, apparently unaware that it was supposed to be hibernating, ambled across a ski run.

But some other companies are finding a silver lining, so to speak. A bike store in the Sierra Nevada range found that it could stay open longer and rent more mountain bikes, as vacationers sought out alternatives to skiing. Some entrepreneurs have opened tour operations and related businesses at the sides of ghost towns made accessible by receding water levels.

But whether they benefit or harm businesses, these weather trends likely mean the same thing for customers: higher prices. When farmers cannot grow as much produce or raise as many cattle, prices for the food products that they are able to produce increase drastically. When bicycle shops can still rent bikes in the winter, they are unlikely to go through with their end-of-season sales for bicycle purchasers. Moreover, consumers face additional impacts from the water shortage, including strong restrictions on watering their lawns and the threat of time-limited showering. Unless that high-pressure zone makes a move, it appears the pressures will be on prices as well.

Source: Norimitsu Onishi and Malia Wollan, “Severe Drought Grows Worse in California,” The New York Times, January 17, 2014

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