Climate Study Predicts Deadly Heat for Older Californians

California’s heat waves are going to be getting longer and hotter in the coming decades, according to a new climate modeling study commissioned by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and the EPA. The authors predict that heat-related deaths among California’s 65-and-over population could spike more than nine-fold by 2090. According to the study, currently more than 500 elderly people die annually from heat-related causes.

Using IPCC climate projections, the study models how climate change will impact California up and down the coast, including coastal cities like San Francisco and inland cities such as Riverside and Fresno.

Lead author Scott Sheridan, a geographer at Kent State University, says that the projected increase in heat-related deaths among those 65 and over are due in part to physiological reasons, but also to growing population size of this age group. By the end of the century, he says, the state’s population of people in this age bracket will increase from 4 million to 15.7 million. Sheridan says California communities that are already used to dealing with hotter temperatures, like the inland city of Fresno, may be better prepared to deal with the heat than relatively cooler coastal cities. Continue reading

What’s Up With This Weather?

While most of the nation bakes, California keeps its cool–and not just along the coast

Climate scientist Phil Duffy and meteorologist Jan Null joined Michael Krasny on KQED’s Forum to discuss California’s cooler-than-usual summer and what it might reveal about climate change in the region. The upshot? We don’t really know.

“I think we’re seeing plain old climate variability,” said Duffy, who is a visiting scholar at Stanford and the Carnegie Institution for Science and chief scientist for Climate Central, a Climate Watch content partner.

Null agreed with Duffy, saying that in any given year, “stuff happens,” which can’t necessarily be attributed to a larger trend.

“It’s hard to take an individual year and say ‘This is the result of climate change’,” said Null. “It could be just the roll of the dice. If we see a lot of stuff happening over the next decades, then we’re talking about climate change.”

Null said this summer’s cool weather is due to a persistent trough of low pressure along the west coast.

“Anytime you have that for an extended period of time, you get what people call ‘unusual’ or ‘freakish’ weather,” he said. Continue reading

Climate Change and the Phoenix Dust Cloud

Hotter temps could set the stage for more — but the science is complex

On July 5, a massive dust cloud, or haboob, swept across Phoenix, Arizona, brought by the North American monsoon. (Photo: Greg Gorman/Flickr)

By Alyson Kenward

On Tuesday night, a massive dust storm rolled into Phoenix, Arizona knocking out power in much of the city, reducing visibility to nearly zero, and grounding flights overnight. Photos of the 100-mile wide dust cloud swallowing the city circulated yesterday, and the event looked practically apocalyptic. In fact, if the photos weren’t in color, and there weren’t YouTube videos of the dust storm, I would have thought I was looking at old-timey images from the 1930’s dust bowl. Now, a couple days later, lingering dust in the air has triggered allergy-like symptoms for many people. Continue reading

A Different Kind of Tsunami: Climate Refugees

Remains of a flooded village in Pakistan in December 2010 (Photo: RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images)

It’s not so much the planet we need to worry about, it’s each other.  And ourselves.

That’s the message of the documentary Climate Refugees, which aims to portray “the human face of climate change.” The film takes viewers to flooded disaster zones in Bangladesh and China, to tiny island nations like Tuvalu under threat from sea level rise, and to the desert wastelands of Sudan, where, according to the UN,  the devastating war in Darfur has been driven partly by climate change.

Extreme weather events are expected to become more common as the climate continues to change, raising the odds for disastrous floods like the ones Pakistan last year, which displaced more than 20 million people, and major droughts which will likely increase desertification in vulnerable areas of Africa and Asia, threatening food and water supplies for millions of people.

And all of those people will need someplace to go.
Continue reading

Storm Surges and King Tides

Pacific storm makes for some high tides and scary waves on the Bay

Waves slosh on to San Francisco's Embarcadero during Thursday's "king tide" (Photo: Gretchen Weber)

Take naturally-occurring extremely high tides, and add to them high winds and torrential rain, and you get some pretty big seas.

At least, that’s what I got out on the San Francisco Bay today.  How big exactly, is hard to say (our uneducated guessed ran the gamut), but they were big enough to wash over the bow of our 26-foot boat on more than one occasion and to keep most of us aboard holding on for dear life for much of the three-hour voyage.   What I can say for sure is that as I type this blog post, four hours later, my body still feels like I’m rolling up and down and back and forth on some stormy seas.

We braved the weather today to check out the latest round of “king tides” and see how they affect low-lying shorelines in places like Crissy Field, Treasure Island, and SFO. The seas were so rough that we didn’t make it all the way to the airport, but we did see waves crashing over the sea wall along the Embarcadero  just south of the Ferry Building (see video below). At Crissy Field, the beach was nearly submerged and a small footbridge near the mouth of the estuary was almost awash. Continue reading

Photograph High Tides, Glimpse the Future?

High tide at Pier 14 in San Francisco on January 19, 2011 (Photo: Jack Gregg)

This week another round of extremely high tides will hit the California coast, providing a glimpse of what the state can expect as sea levels continue to rise. These “king tides” will roll in from February 16th through the 18th, with the highest swells expected on the morning of the 17th, between 7:30 and 9 a.m.

A consortium of environmental groups is again calling for help documenting these high tides. The San Francisco Bay National Estuarine Reserve (NERR), which is spearheading the local effort, has set up a Flickr site where members of public can share their photos.  Organizers launched the site last month, in time for the king tides in January, and since then more than 80 photos have been uploaded by dozens of contributors. Continue reading

Planning for the Other “Big One”

Imagine 45 days of rain brought by a series of winter storms so strong and wet that they turned the Sacramento Valley into an inland sea, making the state capital virtually inaccessible. 

Well, that happened in California in the winter of 1861-1862, and scientists say it will happen again, bringing massive flooding, landslides and property damage across the state.

To help emergency agencies plan for such an event, the US Geological Survey released the “ARkStorm Scenario” in Sacramento this week, detailing the repercussions of a storm that produces up to ten feet of rain and forces the evacuations of more than a million people.

“Vast floods would basically take out all the farm land,” said Marcia McNutt, director of the USGS. “They would destroy homes, animals would die, roads would be impassable, infrastructure would be rendered unusable, dikes would fail, levees, would fail.”

Scientists created this hypothetical storm by combining two actual storms, one from 1969 and one from 1986, and putting them back to back.  Together, they rival the 1860’s storm in magnitude, which was the last time California saw a storm this size.
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So Much for La Niña

Pacific ocean conditions that often portend a dry winter sure haven’t so far.

Scientists like to joke that “climate is what you expect, weather is what you get.” The relatively soggy winter so far is a classic example of that.

Satellite image from last weekend, showing storm systems marching across the Pacific toward California. (Image: NASA)

A closely-watched oscillation in the Pacific is in the La Niña phase this winter, creating colder-than-normal surface temperatures and distorting weather patterns. Usually a La Niña means drier-than-normal conditions for Southern California in particular and often for northern parts of the state as well. Not this year–at least not so far. The rain set multiple records over the weekend. Los Angeles has had a third of its average annual rainfall in a week. So what’s going on? Continue reading

California Heats Up

A chilly summer suddenly switches to record-breaking heat in much of California.  Is this climate change?

Photo: Craig Miller

It reached 113 degrees in Los Angeles on Monday, a record. And while a string of hot days in California doesn’t signify climate change any more than do record snowstorms in Washington D.C., the summer of 2010 did set quite a few records for high temperatures and heat waves. Although for us here in California, this week notwithstanding, we’ve had a pretty cool summer.

But this week’s heat — especially in Southern California — is a reminder of the ripple effects that could become commonplace if predictions of more frequent and severe heat waves come to pass, with a changing climate. Utilities pleaded with customers to conserve power as temperatures triggered record spikes in the electricity load and subsequent strain on the electrical grid. Continue reading

From Russia: More Heat, Less Wheat

This post also appears at Climate Central, a content partner of Climate Watch.

By David Lobell

The heat wave in Russia has captured international media attention, breaking temperature records left and right (see figure below). It has also captured the attention of commodity traders. In a typical year Russia produces about as much wheat as the United States, and is among the top exporters of wheat flour in the world. But this year, wheat has been decimated in the areas around Moscow, with yield expected to be 30 percent or so below normal. This week Russia announced they are banning all exports of wheat from August 15 through the end of the year. Since late June, wheat prices on the Chicago Board of Trade have risen by 50 percent, to more than $7 a bushel. Continue reading