After Two Years of La Niña, El Niño May Be on the Way

The climate pattern usually causes wetter weather in California

By Andrew Freedman

Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images

In 2010, a series of strong storms linked to El Niño caused major flooding in Southern California.

If you thought the first six months of the year were chock full of weird weather events, just wait — according to climate scientists there is an increasing likelihood that El Niño conditions will soon develop in the tropical Pacific Ocean. El Niño events, which are characterized by an area of unusually warm sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean, can have a huge influence on global weather patterns. Its effects on the U.S. tend to peak during the winter.

The U.S. has already had a record warm January-to-June period, and has already had two extremely rare heat waves this year, one in March and the other in mid-June to early July. Entering mid-summer, drought conditions are covering 56 percent of the lower 48 states, a record drought extent in the 21st century. Continue reading

Quick Link: So Far, 2012 is the U.S.’s Hottest Year on Record

Nationwide, 86 temperature records were broken in June, though none were in California

Temperatures have been so warm in parts of the country, they’ve established new “neighborhoods” in the record books, according to a report released today by NOAA. States in the West, the Midwest and Southeast set all-time heat records in June. California and the other West Coast states have not been affected by the heat wave. In fact, Oregon and Washington had a cooler-than-average June.


It’s official, although not necessarily a surprise. The average temperature across the contiguous United States for the first six months of this year has been the warmest on record – and by a considerable sum – dating back to 1895, according to a monthly report released Monday by NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center.

Read more at: green.blogs.nytimes.com

Why Hasn’t California Been Hit With This Summer’s Extreme Heat?

As the rest of the country roasts, California has enjoyed a moderate summer

Craig Miller/KQED

California has not experienced the extreme heat much of the rest of the country has this summer.

For more than a week, record-breaking temperatures have been baking the Midwest and East Coast. But while cities in other parts of the country broke and tied records for the hottest Fourth of July, in San Francisco I bundled-up in a couple sweaters and watched the fireworks through the fog. Which is typical. Overall, it’s been an average summer here in California, at least temperature-wise.

“At June around the state, most places were fairly close to normal, or a degree and a half below normal, so not any real extremes,” Jan Null, a meterologist with Golden Gate Weather Services, told me. “We’ve stayed in the mild, in-between area. It was not a particularly cold winter, and not a particularly hot summer.” Continue reading

Vote on $11 Billion Water Bond Delayed Another Two Years

The massive bond, which would have been on this year’s ballot, will now go to voters in 2014

California Department of Water Resources

The water bond would help fund restoration projects in the Delta.

The California legislature voted in favor of postponing the state’s water bond on Thursday. The bond, which would provide funds for water supply, environmental restoration and groundwater protection projects, was originally scheduled to be on the November, 2010 ballot. Then, the legislature voted to delay until this year, when they pushed it back, again.

“The ballot was too crowded and people had a lot of other things on their mind,” Senator Jean Fuller told me before the vote. “People are much more concerned about financial issues.”

Governor Jerry Brown’s tax measure is on this November’s ballot. He had previously asked for the water bond to be delayed, because he also didn’t want the competition.

An analysis by the Pacific Institute found that the bond is the largest since the one that funded the State Water Project in the 1960’s. Continue reading

CalFire: Watching Colorado, Preparing for the Worst

There have already been more than 2,500 wildfires in California this year

Craig Miller/KQED

A wildfire truck owned by California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire).

While CalFire experts, embedded with the California National Guard are helping fight the massive wildfires in Colorado, CalFire is also beefing up at home, preparing for the peak of California’s fire season. As of this week, the agency is fully staffed, with 7,000 personnel, hundreds of engines and dozens of air tankers and helicopters.

CalFire has already responded to 2,308 fires this year — that’s more than 1,000 more than at this time last year, and higher than the five-year average, too. Combined with the fires in local jurisdictions, there have been more than 2,500 fires this year, and that doesn’t include wildfires on federal land. Continue reading

Talking Climate, Online in Real Time

Stanford professor is using new tools to hang out and chat

Stanford University

Stanford professor Noah Diffenbaugh is using real time, online video chat to engage the public in discussions of climate science.

Noah Diffenbaugh, an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Earth System Science at Stanford, has focused largely on climate variability and the influence of humans on the global climate system. Lately, he’s also being spending time in the cloud.

In April, he launched an online discussion forum called Hangouts on Air, in which participants from anywhere around the world (with a broadband connection, that is) can participate in real-time online discussions about climate.

Participation has been limited in these first months, but Diffenbaugh says the model holds promise for engaging the public on the complex, contentious and rapidly evolving issues in climate science. He agreed to answer some questions for Climate Watch. Continue reading

Heat Wave Adds to Colorado Wildfire Woes

Record-breaking heat combined with drought create ideal conditions for wildfire

So far this summer, California has been spared from massive wildfires like the ones raging in Colorado. You can keep tabs on fires in California on CalFire’s statewide map.

By Andrew Freedman

U.S. Air Force photo/Mike Kaplan/Flickr

The Waldo Canyon fire burns off the southern border of the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

Blistering and desiccating heat across the West and High Plains helped aggravate an already dangerous wildfire situation in Colorado and several other states, and now the heat is moving eastward toward the Midwest, South Central states, and eventually the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast.

Denver endured a record fifth straight day of 100-degree temperatures on Tuesday, and the high temperature of 105°F tied the city’s all-time record high, a milestone that reached just a day earlier. Colorado Springs also hit an all-time mark on Tuesday, with a high of 101°F.

At least 23 daily high temperature records were broken or tied in Colorado alone on Tuesday. Continue reading

Quick Link: Appeals Court Upholds EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Rules

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. ruled in favor of the Environmental Protection Agency today, agreeing with the EPA that greenhouse gases pose a risk to people’s health and welfare. The court also backed the EPA up on its rules on tailpipe emissions and large industrial polluters.

California filed briefs in support of the EPA in the case. The state was the first to regulate emissions from cars, and when the EPA began working on a national rule, California said it would adopt that one. This decision upholds the EPA’s regulations, which have already gone into effect.


A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia declared that the agency was “unambiguously correct” that the Clean Air Act requires the federal government to impose limits once it has determined that emissions are causing harm.

Read more at: www.nytimes.com

Why is Hydropower Relicensing So Complicated?

Unraveling the knot of hydropower development on the Yuba River

Molly Samuel/KQED

Englebright Dam is not part of any of the hydro projects on the Yuba River, but it's surrounded by them.

When most of the dams in California were built, there were few, if any, safety or environmental regulations governing how they operated. Now most hydropower projects, whether they’re owned by local agencies or power companies, need licenses from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC. (Federal projects don’t require FERC licenses.) Licenses are good for 30 to 50 years, and licensees don’t have to keep up with, for instance, environmental laws passed in the intervening years. So when a hydropower project does come up for relicensing, there’s a lot to catch up on.

I described some of the relicensing process in a radio story for The California Report for Climate Watch’s “Water and Power” series. Dennis Smith, the Hydropower Relicensing Manager for Region 5 for the Forest Service, gave me a taste of how complicated relicensing is when he showed me a flow chart [PDF] of how the process works. It has 39 boxes on it, each a discrete step. A typical application takes at least five years to complete. Some take much longer.

“You could have a child and he would be in the first grade by the time you got a license for a dam,” Smith said. Continue reading