SoCal Braces for Climate Whiplash: Unprecedented ‘Thousand-Year’ Storms Signal Alarming Trends
“Southern California faces the aftermath of back-to-back ‘thousand-year’ storms, revealing the intersection of El Niño and climate change, as experts warn of increased extreme weather likelihood and communities grapple with recovery.”
Southern California is grappling with the aftermath of two rare and powerful storms, labeled as ‘thousand-year’ events, within weeks of each other. The unexpected deluge has left communities in Ventura, Los Angeles, and San Diego counties grappling with floods, water rescues, evacuations, and extensive damage. This extreme weather, believed to be influenced by El Niño, climate change, and seasonal patterns, has prompted Governor Gavin Newsom to declare states of emergency. As experts warn of increased likelihood, we delve into the meteorological intricacies and potential implications of these extraordinary events.
Unprecedented Nature of the Storms
December’s Oxnard Deluge
On December 21, Oxnard experienced a historic storm that dumped a month’s worth of rain in less than an hour. This event, referred to as a ‘thousand-year’ storm, shocked officials and residents alike.
January’s San Diego Soaker
Following closely, a similarly historic storm drenched San Diego with more rain in a few hours than the area typically sees in the entire month of January. Both events, with a 0.1% likelihood in a given year, have raised concerns about the increasing frequency of extreme weather.
El Niño, Climate Change, and Seasonal Patterns
Marty Ralph’s Insights
Marty Ralph, Director of the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes, emphasizes the connection between climate change, El Niño, and the intensification of extreme weather events. He notes the past decade’s record-setting wet and dry periods, attributing them to what scientists term as weather whiplash, climate whiplash, and hydrologic whiplash.
Elizabeth Adams, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in San Diego, explains that the recent storms were a result of rare meteorological circumstances. The direct route of the storm towards Baja California and southwestern California, combined with an atmospheric moisture concentration of 250% to 350% of normal, led to the extraordinary rainfall in San Diego.
Ocean Temperatures and Climate Change
Role of Ocean Temperatures
Ralph suggests that ocean temperatures, influenced by both El Niño and climate change, played a crucial role in the intensity of these storms. While he cannot quantify the impact of climate change, the rise in ocean temperatures, especially near the coast, adds energy to storms.
Global ocean heat content set a record high in 2023, signaling a warming planet. With ocean temperatures as much as 8 degrees above normal during December’s storm, the link between climate change and extreme weather becomes more apparent.
Outlook for the Rest of the Rainy Season
Dry Start to the Water Year
Despite the recent storms, this water year’s precipitation in Southern California has been significantly lower compared to the previous year. Jay Lund, Director of the Center for Watershed Sciences, attributes this to a dry start in the first three months.
Potential for Future Storms
While the current water year may not rival the wettest years, meteorologists warn of an upcoming impactful atmospheric river event from Jan. 31 to Feb. 5. This, along with another following closely, could bring heavy rain, snow, and high winds, posing a risk of flooding and landslides.
Impact on Communities
Ongoing Recovery Efforts
Communities like San Diego’s Southcrest neighborhood are still reeling from the recent storms. Families are grappling with flooded homes, mold, and sewage damage. The potential for more moisture in the coming months adds uncertainty to their recovery efforts.
“SoCal battles back-to-back ‘thousand-year’ storms, as El Niño and climate change amplify extreme weather, prompting concerns and recovery efforts in the wake of unprecedented rainfall and flooding.”
As Southern California navigates the aftermath of these unprecedented storms, the intersection of El Niño, climate change, and seasonal patterns raises concerns about the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. The delicate balance between the benefits and risks posed by such storms underscores the need for ongoing research, preparedness, and adaptive measures in the face of a changing climate.