Report: California in Throes of Climate Change Crisis
Headlines reporting record temperatures, debilitating drought, rampaging wildfires, and rising seas are nothing new to Californians. However, the increasing incidence of Mother Nature-fueled wrath in recent years might not be just unfortunate coincidence. California is already feeling the significant and growing effects of climate change, according to a new report compiled by CalEPA’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment that tracks 36 indicators of climate change and its impacts on the state.
According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), these specific indicators of climate change draw upon monitoring data from throughout the state and a wide variety of research studies carried out by state and federal agencies, universities, and other research institutions.
Some key findings from the report include:
- Agriculture: In parts of the Central Valley, certain fruits and nuts (prunes and one walnut variety) are maturing more quickly with warming temperatures, leading to earlier harvests. Shorter maturation times generally lead to smaller fruits and nuts, potentially causing a significant loss of revenue for growers and suppliers.
- Temperature: Average air temperatures have increased throughout the state since 1895, with temperatures increasing at a faster rate since the mid-1970s. The last four years were the hottest on record, with 2014 being the warmest, followed by 2015, 2017, and 2016. Nighttime temperatures have been rising faster than daytime temperatures.
- Drought: California is becoming drier, with unprecedented dry years in 2014 and 2015. The recent drought from 2012 to 2016 was the most extreme since instrumental records began.
- Wildfires: The five largest fire years since 1950 occurred in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2012, and 2015. Preliminary data suggest that 2017, which included the deadliest and most destructive wildfires in state history (Sonoma and Napa counties) and the largest wildfire in state history (Thomas Fire in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties), will rank as the second largest fire year in terms of total acreage.
- Sierra Nevada Snowmelt: The fraction of snowmelt runoff into the Sacramento River between April and July relative to total year-round runoff has declined, leading to less water available during the summer to meet the state’s needs.
In addition, the report also highlights a variety of “emerging climate change issues” that only appear to be influenced by climate change, but not directly linked. These include a reduction in coastal and Central Valley fog, an increase in harmful algal blooms, and a rise in invasive agricultural pests.
The full indicators report and complementary summary can be accessed at oehha.ca.gov/climate-change/document/indicators-climate-change-california.
CDFA notes that the report is one of two major state research efforts examining local impacts from climate change. California’s Climate Change Assessments report builds on findings from the indicators assessment to make projections about future impacts that can fuel possible state adaptation strategies.