Annual average air temperatures along the Pecho Coast — the coastal stretch between Point San Luis Lighthouse and Point Buchon just south of Montaña de Oro — have remained nearly constant because of the moderating influences of the vast Pacific Ocean.
Situated halfway between those two points is the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. In 1968, construction on the power plant began, and one of the first structures built along the immediate shoreline was the primary meteorological tower. Over the decades, hundreds of thousands of atmospheric measurements have been recorded and archived from that tower. During much at that time, annual air temperatures averaged about 56 degrees.
However, that condition has changed. Last year was the warmest year on record at the Diablo Canyon meteorological tower with an average air temperature of 59 degrees. So far this year, the air temperature has averaged nearly 61 degrees. Not only are air temperatures at record levels, but seawater temperatures have been the warmest ever seen along the Central Coast.
Of course, this year’s very strong El Niño event has contributed to the record-breaking seawater temperatures, but climate change has also warmed the sea and air. Unfortunately, the climate models continue to forecast that temperatures will become warmer and droughts more severe. This situation will continue to increase evaporation from vegetation and soils.
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“The record warm temperatures have baked the vegetation that created extreme burning conditions,” Robert Lewin, chief of Cal Fire in San Luis Obispo, told me. “The extreme heat has dried our soils, which resulted in fires spreading through tree roots, surprising us days and weeks after we thought we had contained the fire.”
On the other hand, a warmer atmosphere can hold a greater amount of water vapor that, in turn, can produce more intense storms and heavier amounts of precipitation that ironically leads to greater threats of flooding.
This is of little comfort to those who are suffering from the worst drought ever to hit our state. Because of the lack of water, many of California’s Central Valley farms have had to turn to the vast natural aquifers to draw water. Not only has California’s agriculturalist had to turn to the aquifer, but many households that have relied on wells have had to dig them deeper.
These aquifers took thousands of years to develop from rain and melted snow that slowly percolated into the soil. When water is pumped in ever greater amounts, and there’s insufficient precipitation to replace it, the ground sinks. In fact, according to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory study, which is based on satellite imaging, parts of California’s Central Valley floor is sinking as much is 2 inches each month.
No doubt the climate and weather patterns are changing, and it’s probably due to our own activities.
Dr. Ray Weymann, a retired director and chairman of the astronomy department at the University of Arizona and director and staff member emeritus of the Carnegie Observatories in Pasadena, told me that more than 95 percent of scientists working in disciplines contributing to climate studies agree that global warming is caused by human activities. Specifically, the ever-increasing amounts carbon that is put into the atmosphere each year.
In fact, France’s “climate ambassador,” Laurence Tubiana said, “Since 1992, we’ve added almost as much carbon to the atmosphere as we did in the previous century.”
On Sunday, you can show your support for climate change awareness at the Baywood Climate Fest, which starts at 11 a.m. at the Baywood Park Pier.
During the two-week Paris Climate Conference summit that begins Monday, some PG&E leaders will discuss how California and its utilities have become models for curbing carbon emissions while improving quality of life and expanding the economy. (Follow PG&E’s Paris activities on www.pgecurrents.com and on Twitter @PGE4me.)
John Lindsey’s column is special to The Tribune. He is the PG&E Diablo Canyon meteorologist and media relations representative. Email him at email@example.com