Last year, the city of San Diego experienced devastating flooding rains caused by the remnants of Hurricane Kay, resulting in over 90 fatalities, many of whom tragically lost their lives at sea. However, it is important to note that a tropical storm has not made landfall in California since the year 1939, largely due to the presence of a cold ocean current acting as a protective shield, weakening incoming storms. Nevertheless, the warming of the Pacific Ocean, as well as all other Earthly oceans, resulting from the undeniable effects of climate change, has compromised this protective barrier.
Consequently, this season will mark a significant milestone as the National Weather Service in Los Angeles and San Diego will finally have the capability to issue alerts regarding tropical storms and hurricanes. It is noteworthy that the issuance of the first-ever Tropical Storm Watch, targeting Southern California, was confirmed on Friday.
To better comprehend the implications of this development, it is essential to understand the distinctions between depressions, storms, and hurricanes, all of which fall under the broader classification of tropical cyclones. As per Jamie Rhome from the National Hurricane Center, it is imperative not to find oneself in a situation where authorities must inform the public that such an event occurs only once every century, rendering them unprepared. Therefore, it was crucial to take proactive measures to address the potential increase in storm frequency affecting Southern California due to the altering climate conditions.
The impact of climate change is manifesting in our oceans, which are currently experiencing exceptional levels of heat, unprecedented in recorded history. Furthermore, this year, the natural phenomenon of El Niño, which invariably amplifies the tropical risk for California, is coinciding with these elevated oceanic temperatures. Sarah Kapnick, the chief scientist at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, emphasizes that warmer temperatures create favorable conditions for storm formation, particularly as El Niño progresses and warmer water moves closer to the coastline.
Andrew Pershing, an expert from Climate Central, explains that hurricanes thrive on warm water and that approximately 90% of the extra heat humans have contributed to the planet through greenhouse gas emissions is stored within our oceans. Consequently, the presence of warmer oceanic conditions fuels more substantial storms and heightens the probability of rapid intensification, causing storms to transform from tropical to highly potent hurricanes within a short span of time.
Another well-established scientific understanding is that until we halt our reliance on fossil fuels, we should expect an escalation in the frequency and intensity of hurricanes, leading to increased incidents of flooding. John Nielson-Gammon, the Texas State Climatologist, emphasizes that a significantly warmer atmosphere, capable of retaining more water vapor, is causing a general increase in extreme rainfall. As a result, the amount of rainfall associated with hurricanes, including the more intense downpours, is projected to rise on a global scale.
It is clear that the convergence of climate change and El Niño has put Southern California at a heightened risk of tropical storms and hurricanes this season. With the introduction of the new Tropical Storm Watch, authorities are taking a proactive approach to protect the public from potential harm. However, it is crucial that long-term solutions, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions and transitioning to sustainable energy sources, are pursued to mitigate these risks in the future.