If the lack of rain gripping California doesn't let up, 2014 could be the year of the bird strike at Lemoore Naval Air Station.
Airfield manager Mark Stack said that when farmland near the airfield is deprived of water, the conditions become ripe for bird strikes, which can bring down a plane if birds get sucked into engines.
No crash like that has happened at Lemoore — yet — but last year a hawk hit a Hornet fighter jet, and what was left of the bird got sucked into both engines.
"It could have been catastrophic," Stack said.
Here's the problem, he said: The airfield is surrounded by farmland that the base leases to cotton and alfalfa growers.
If water supplies are curtailed due to drought and the land goes fallow, ground squirrels will move in, attracting hawks and other raptors.
It's already happening, Stack said: "We have Swainson's hawks as well as red-tailed [hawks] feasting on the ground squirrels."
Years of low water and bird strikes go together, he said.
Last year, a low water year, there were 43 bird strikes at Lemoore, a record high. The previous spike occurred in 2009, another low water year.
"It leads us to conclude that low water is leading to bird strikes around the airfield," Stack said.
A wildlife hazards report for the base shows several species are involved in bird strikes, and Swainson's hawks, a migratory bird, are especially worrisome because they flock and are large.
But it's often impossible to verify which species was involved in a bird strike.
The base does not disk land outside the airfield fence to make the land unfriendly to squirrels. Inside the fence it keeps out wildlife by mowing the grass, putting up spike strips where birds perch and taking other measures.
The base will keep gathering bird strike data and use it to decide whether more drastic measures are needed, he said.
New clinic: Kaweah Delta Health Care District is opening the first chronic disease management clinic in Tulare County in May.
The board of directors approved the venture last week. It will be located at 325 S. Willis St. in Visalia in the former Orthopaedic Associates building.
The clinic will help people who have been discharged from the hospital and diagnosed with congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, hypertension and other diseases.
Under the Affordable Care Act, hospitals can be fined if patients return within 30 days of being discharged. Patients who get help managing their care will be less likely to need the emergency room or be readmitted, said Regina Sawyer, the district's director of care management.
Dr. Ronald Marconi, a Visalia family practice doctor, said patients will live longer because they now have access to the clinic's services.
Lewis Griswold covers the news of Tulare and Kings counties for The Bee. His column runs Sunday. He can be reached at (559) 441-6104, email@example.com or @fb_LewGriswold on Twitter.