Well if you thought 2014 was warmer than normal along the Central Coast, you were correct. In fact, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) confirmed that 2014 was the warmest year in California’s history since 1895. Before that year, there weren’t enough calibrated weather stations to produce an accurate temperature record for the state.
According to NOAA, the state’s temperature averaged 61.5 degrees or about 4.1 degrees hotter than normal. Last year’s average temperature smashed the previous record of 59.6 degrees set in 1934. Warm indeed! Overall, since 1895, California’s running average temperature is increasing by around 0.02 degrees Fahrenheit each year. Globally, last week various worldwide organizations announced that 2014 was the warmest year worldwide. NOAA and NASA are expected to confirm these findings next Friday.
Locally, Cal Poly (home of climatology for San Luis Obispo) averaged 63.2 or about 5 degrees warmer than average. At Paso Robles Municipal Airport, the average temperature for 2014 was 63.6 degrees. Normally, the airport averages 59.7. As you might expect, 2014 was the warmest year in the history of Paso Robles. The next warmest year was 1997 which averaged 61.9 degrees. For 2014, Cal Poly broke its previous record set in 2003 of 62.3 degrees.
Not only has the atmosphere been warm, but the ocean along the San Luis Obispo County coastline is near or at record levels. Since 1976, temperature recorders housed in steel canisters and placed at fixed locations in the intertidal and subtidal zones near Diablo Canyon Power Plant have recorded millions of seawater temperatures. The average yearly seawater temperature is a cool 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Despite the fact that 2014 was not classified an El Niño year, the preliminary seawater data indicates a yearly average of around 57 degrees, which would make it the warmest year on record.
So what will warmer climate bring to the future of California? These warm air temperatures, have exasperated the present drought. Over the years, many have turned to groundwater to supply their needs, a resource in many areas that’s well overtaxed. To make matters worse, many of California’s fisheries depend on relatively cool water. In order to keep many of our native fish alive, precious water is often release from lakes and reservoirs to keep the state’s streams and rivers cooler. These warmer air temperatures have also produced larger and more intense wildfires.
However, perhaps the most problematic threat to California due to climate change is the continue rise in snow levels as atmospheric temperatures increase.
You see, it's been estimated that between 75 percent and 80 percent of California's freshwater comes from the Sierra Nevada snowpack. Unfortunately, a warmer atmosphere will cause more of the state's precipitation to fall as rain and not as snow. Snow is a magnificent reservoir for the Golden State. As it gradually melts in spring and summer, it provides a steady supply of fresh water for agricultural, industrial, environmental, recreational, residential and hydroelectric generation needs. If it falls as rain, especially during a large storm, it runs off the land more quickly and eventually finds its way to the ocean more rapidly.
I know it seems ironic, especially at this time of terrible drought, but the threat of floods could very well be our greatest worry. Let me explain: rising snow levels, coupled with the fact that a warmer atmosphere can hold a greater amount of water vapor and in turn produce heavier rains, increases the likelihood of floods.
So why does the atmosphere continue to warm? Even though carbon dioxide (CO2) makes up a very small part of the atmosphere, the vast majority of climate scientists agree that its rapid increase since the Industrial Revolution is one of the main forcing agents behind climate change. In other words, it’s the primary greenhouse gas emitted through human activity.
In the United States, the generation of electricity is one of the largest contributors of CO2. However, in PG&E’s service territory the generation of electricity utilizing nuclear, hydroelectric, solar, wind, geothermal and biomass has made our state one of the cleanest in the country. In fact, more than 50 percent of the electricity that PG&E delivers to its customers is carbon free. With each passing year, it’s expected to become cleaner.