Anyone who has lived a few decades in Bakersfield knows that the city's fog problem isn't what it used to be. As sprawling urbanization has paved over more land, and drought has sucked moisture from the soil, the number of school fog delays and closures have been in serious decline — especially in urban Bakersfield.
But don't start thinking that fog has gone up in smoke.
A dense fog advisory in the San Joaquin Valley issued by the National Weather Service's Hanford station was extended through noon Monday as lingering fog continued to create problems with low visibility.
And after a break on Tuesday, Wednesday could usher in more fog.
"We're still seeing fog this year in rural areas," said NWS Meteorologist David Spector. "Less so in Bakersfield."
If you've lived through it, you likely can't forget those mornings when the valley's infamous tule fog seemed to swallow up cars and stop signs and sometimes even lines on the road.
Fog forms when certain conditions are present, starting with moist soil, Spector said. As valley cities like Bakersfield and Fresno have grown, adequately large patches of damp ground in urban areas have become more rare. Lengthy periods of drought have also reduced the frequency of fog.
But it certainly hasn't disappeared.
Tehachapi Unified School District called a closure due to fog on one day last March. And several districts west of Bakersfield — including Wasco; Pond; Semitropic; and Rio Bravo-Greeley — saw school delays and closures last year.
Over the winters of 2012-13 and 2013-14, only one fog delay was called. In the winter of 2011-12, the region had 17 fog delays, but none were in metro Bakersfield.
However, the winter of 2014-15 was a different story, with dozens of delays and more than a half-dozen school closures, according to the Kern County Superintendent of Schools' Alert Line, an online site that parents and school employees can visit early on foggy mornings to determine their school's status.
The fog delays and closures that year affected thousands of students in schools from Shafter to Taft, Bakersfield to Buttonwillow.
Previous to that year, the last time schools in Kern County saw fog-related closures was in 2004.
While some districts send out early-morning fog spotters to determine when it's prudent to take action, other districts take their cues from the Superintendent of Schools office and local public agencies. The office provides bus transportation for hundreds of special education students, so many KCSOS bus drivers are beginning their day well before 5 a.m.
And that makes them the eyes of schools across the southern valley.
The drivers communicate with dispatch operators about road conditions in various areas of the county. Inquiries are also made to the local offices of the California Highway Patrol, police departments in Shafter and Arvin, and other agencies. If KCSOS calls a fog delay, some districts may consider doing the same.
But the amount of time districts have to make a decision can be short. And fog can be tricky.
When thick fog rolls in after a decision is made, bus drivers are expected to make a judgment about whether it is safe to continue on their route. If they determine it is not, they must find a safe place to park and wait for the fog to dissipate before continuing on their route.
In the end, it's about the safety of students, school administrators say.
According to Spector, fog could be rare this winter. The formation of the gray mist also requires a high-pressure ridge.
"We appear to be moving into an active pattern," he said.
After a weak low-pressure system moves in Tuesday, a stronger storm system is expected on Thursday and Friday, Spector said. Another may arrive on Sunday — and the pattern suggests more will follow.
All that air movement could spell the end of fog season.
Few will complain.