SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Earth Day has made more people aware of climate change. We like to think San Diego is always 70 degrees and sunny, but even that is changing. I met with National Weather Service Meteorologist Alex Tardy at Torrey Pines to talk about the small changes we're seeing each year that are now adding up.
Every ten years new climate normals are released and the latest normals released in 2021 show that San Diego is trending warmer and drier. "Everywhere in the United States except a small portion of the northern plains was warmer than their prior thirty-year averages," explains Alex Tardy.
The wet years of 2018 and 2019 which got us out of drought are a distant memory. While this year started out looking like it could be a drought buster, "We had a late October storm, this winter is going to be amazing. We had a series of December storms and atmospheric rivers – amazing – we’re good right? Well, the movie didn’t end there, starting January 1 it has not snowed more than twenty inches in Mammoth, CA while they got 161 inches in December," says Tardy, now two-thirds of the state has seen its driest period from January to March.
In December it looked like we were gonna fill up the reservoirs, we had record snowfall in Lake Tahoe, the most snow that’s ever occurred in December, in fact it almost broke the all-time snow record for any month.
While Southern California is in year two of drought, two-thirds of the state in Central and Northern California, where a big source of the water supply for the state is held, is on year three of drought with the current snowpack at a mere 38% of normal.
We have a short winter in California, November to March, if we’re lucky April and that’s when we have to get all the rain and snow for the farmers, agriculture, residents and visitors, and if we don’t, "that means water supply shortage, that means fire weather; we’ve already had two of the worst, acreage wise, worst active fire seasons in California history, 2020 and 2021" Tardy explains.
He goes on to say "the extremes in Northern California are unprecedented, the fire season the last two years unprecedented, and meanwhile in Southern California it’s not as bad but it’s all relative compared to what's going on in the entire west. We’re not going to be able to have a season where we don’t have to worry about a lot of fires, it's going to be dry, the soils dry, and the water supply is low."
Couple that with the record hot years, six of the last ten summers have been top ten hottest; 2014 and 2015 were the warmest with 2021 right behind.
"Dry periods are drier, longer, more severe, wet periods are wetter, more severe, but less of them. Temperatures are not just hotter, but longer heatwaves, more intense heatwaves, and warmer overnight temperatures," says Tardy.
He explains that "we can’t just blame or credit it to El Nino or La Nina, it’s happening without that, between that, over that; so it’s very complicated of course, but very extreme type of weather that makes up our climate."
Being a coastal community, sea-level rise is another concern. It’s a slow process that takes years largely from losing massive amounts of ice melting at our north pole that is already at historically low levels. Just one foot of sea-level rise will make a massive difference on average sea level and in 20 to 40 years were talking about two to three feet.
Sea level rise means less beaches, more erosion, and greater impact on roads and parking lots and it’s expensive to make changes to slow the impacts. Tardy explains it takes "extensive planning for old cities and new development because of the sea-level rise."
Warmer oceans don’t just mean sea-level rise; it also means more humid summers and stronger atmospheric rivers. 2018, 2019 and 2020 saw record-setting ocean water temperatures here.
Tardy reminds us that "La Jolla Scripps touched 80 degrees each summer, 80 degrees, if you’re in Miami you’re rolling your eyes, but that’s significant for here."
Since 2013 the ocean waters have been trending above normal and that's when the summers started trending more humid. The ocean, the land, the atmosphere all work together and when the atmosphere warms you add more moisture which adds more energy.
Tardy explains, "when you have more energy in the ocean, you’re potentially going to have stronger storms, atmospheric rivers, hurricanes, but it doesn’t promise that you’ll be wetter because at the same time overall were having longer droughts, more severe droughts, and repeated droughts."
There is hope, but it’s up to us to make a change. Each person has to contribute in some way, you have to educate yourself and your family.
Everything we do, or don’t do, affects the natural cycle, so when we litter, or waste, or aren't conscious of what’s around us, each one of us, it adds up and it’s not just about us, it’s about future generations.
"The other generations, the ones where it's projected in 2070, 2090 to be twice as many heatwaves, much warmer nights, worse droughts, worse floods," says Tardy.
As he points out it needs to be a priority "looking for ways to better improve the atmosphere and the ocean because it’s all where we live, so we have to, there’s no choice."