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California Climate Stories

Record-Breaking Sea Levels Observed in Southern California over Thanksgiving Holiday

In late November, record-breaking sea levels were observed at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) tide stations in San Diego, La Jolla, and Santa Barbara. These Southern California tide stations logged water peak water levels even higher than predicted by NOAA.

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Climate Change and the Character of Southern California Wildfires

Wildfire is a natural environmental phenomenon and has been an integral part of eco­systems in California for millennia. However, in recent decades the numbers, severity, and area burned by Southern California wildfires have increased. Read more about their impacts in recently published paper Identification of two distinct fire regimes in Southern California: Implications for economic impact and future change.

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Post-Wildfire Damage Control

A new study published in the Journal of Environmental Management, "Modeling the impacts of wildfire on runoff and pollutant transport from coastal watersheds to the nearshore environment," examines the effects of post-wildfire runoff and its impact on the environment.

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Calendar Year 2014: Record-Breaking Heat in California

Data from California Climate Tracker show that 2014 was, by a wide margin, the hottest year on record for the state of California.

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Delta Subsidence and Levee Safety

The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is a critical freshwater resource for California and its reliability depends significantly upon the integrity of the earthen levees protecting dozens of Delta islands.

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Informing improved water management in the face of current and future climate variability

A decade of collaboration between scientists and California water managers has led to the development of a probabilistic-based decision-support software, called INFORM (Integrated Forecast and Reservoir Management).

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Health: Many opportunities to reduce social vulnerabilities

Climate change could have major impacts on public health and well-being throughout California if adequate adaptation measures are not taken.

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Air Pollution

Rising temperatures can further worsen air quality conditions which already result in staggering costs of $71 billion annually. Ailments such as asthma, other acute respiratory and cardiovascular diseases will only get more severe and affect more people.

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Effect of Changes in Precipitation on Flora

In central and southern Sierra, the giant sequoias, which are among the biggest living things on Earth, might be in threat. As precipitation continues to become more and more irregular, longer drought periods are expected in various regions of the state. Along with the sequoias, there are other kinds of vegetation which are at a risk of drying out.

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Intensification of Heat Waves

By 2100, if temperatures rise to the higher warming range, there could be up to 100 more days per year with temperatures above 90°F in Los Angeles and above 95°F in Sacramento. As  temperatures rise, Californians could face greater risk of death  from dehydration, heat stroke/exhaustion, heart attack, stroke, and respiratory distress caused by extreme heat. By mid century, extreme heat events in urban  centers such as Sacramento, Los Angeles, and San Bernardino could cause two to three times more heat-related deaths than occur today.

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Electricity Demand

Climate change may significantly affect the operation of California's electric power system, in both the demand and supply sides. As temperatures rise, electricity demand will also increase to meet air conditioning and other cooling requirements. This in turn will further escalate the emission of greenhouse gases and the air pollution due to use of unclean sources of energy.

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Shrinking Beaches

Many of California’s beaches may shrink in the future because of rising seas and increased erosion from winter storms. Currently, many beaches are protected from erosion through manmade sand replenishment (or “nourishment”) programs, which bring in sand from outside sources to replace the diminishing supply of natural sand. In fact, many of the wide sandy beaches in southern California around Santa Monica, Venice, and Newport Beach were created and are maintained entirely by sand nourishment programs. As sea levels rise, increasing volumes of replacement sand will be needed to maintain current beach width and quality. California beach nourishment programs currently cost millions of dollars each year. As global warming continues, the costs of beach nourishment programs will rise, and in some regions beach replenishment may no longer be viable.

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Loss of Winter Recreation

Continued global warming will have widespread implications for winter tourism. Declines in Sierra Nevada snow pack would lead to later starting and earlier closing dates of the ski season. Toward the end of the century, if temperatures rise to the lower warming range, the ski season at lower and middle elevations could shorten by as much as a month. If temperatures reach the higher warming range and precipitation declines, there might be many years with insufficient snow for skiing and snowboarding. Decreases from 40 to almost 90 percent are likely in end-of-season snowpack under high emissions scenarios in major ski resorts.

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Rising Temperatures in Agriculture

The agriculture industry of California is the largest and the most diverse of the country, producing 300 commodities and half of the country’s fruits and vegetables. As temperatures rise in the state, there will be a direct impact on the water supply, proliferation of pests, outbreak of diseases and overall quality and quantity of the produce.

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Wine Industry

California is the nation’s largest wine producer and the fourth largest wine producer worldwide. High-quality wines produced throughout the Napa and Sonoma Valleys and along the northern and central coasts generate $3.2 billion in revenue each year. High temperatures during the growing season can cause premature ripening and reduce grape quality. Temperature increases are expected to have only modest effect on grape quality in most regions over the next few decades. However, toward the end of the century, wine grapes could ripen as much as one to two months earlier, which will affect grape quality in all but the coolest coastal locations (Mendocino and Monterey Counties).

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Wild Fire

As climate changes, it appears that summer dryness will begin earlier, last longer and become more intense. These changes may exacerbate fire occurrences, which have historically peaked in late summer and early fall.  If temperatures rise into the medium warming range, the risk of large wildfires in California could increase by as much as 55 percent, which is almost twice the increase expected if temperatures stay in the lower warming range.

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Climate Change and Transportation

California's economy, including foreign and domestic trade, relies heavily upon its transportation infrastructure. The state’s important role in the world economy makes its transport systems vital to people inside and outside its borders.

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Securing an Adequate Water Supply

Continued global warming will increase pressure on California’s water resources, which are already over-stretched by the demands of a growing economy and population. Decreasing snowmelt and spring stream flows coupled with increasing demand for water resulting from both a growing population and hotter climate could lead to increasing water shortages. By the end of the century, if temperatures rise to the medium warming range and precipitation decreases, late spring stream flow could decline by up to 30 percent. Agricultural areas could be hard hit, with California farmers losing as much as 25 percent of the water supply they need.

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