What role does climate change play in local weather events? - KSBY.com | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

What role does climate change play in local weather events?

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In the past five years, California has experienced everything from extreme drought to related wildfires and massive debris flows from the rains that follow.

Last year, much of the state was hammered by near-record rainfall but this year, drought has again grown quickly.

Is this related to climate change?  

The general rule of thumb is that individual events are difficult to directly connect to climate change since some would happen whether or not there was climate change. However, the frequency and intensity of extreme events are increasing and most experts think the time for debate on this topic is over.

At the recent Operation Sierra Storm conference in Lake Tahoe, experts from around the county came together to discuss the issue and what, if anything, can be done about it.

To understand how climate change impacts you, the first thing to understand is that this is a big picture thing we are talking about. It isn't about an individual hot day or a dry week. It isn't even about your backyard, it's about everyones.

Global average temperatures are up in the modern area, as this NASA animation shows, primarily due to increasing CO2 levels.

One of the biggest problems getting people to accept climate change is getting people to understand that yes, scientists are fully aware the Earth goes through cycles of varying intensity of sunshine and volcanic activity along with a multitude of other large-scale oscillations, but the current calculations take all of that into account. Scientists like Noah Diffenbaugh from Stanford University say we have to face our role in the changing world.

"From a scientific point of view, it is very clear that global warming is happening. It is very clear that human activities are the primary cause. It is very clear we are experiencing impacts from that warming. Global warming is not an issue for the future, it is an issue for the present," Diffenbaugh said.

High-temperature records are falling at a rate of 7 to 1 over low-temperature records. Eighty percent of dry winters in California produce drought now because they are also connected to seasons which are also very warm. The last four years have been among the warmest for high and low temperatures in the last 123 years.

Many experts and media that cover the issue say the biggest problem about climate change is that it is treated more like a political position than a science concept. 

"Often times when you start talking about causation, people start to get angry because they think we are blaming one person or the other," said Keith Stellman, NOAA Meteorologist. "We have to get away from that. We have to acknowledge that it is happening so we can begin to address it, regardless of the cause."

"People react to it like they are reacting to a trauma," said Angela Fritz, Washington Post. "They want to deny that it is happening because it is huge, right? It is hard to process and then they go into a grief mode and a sense of 'what can I do?' And you have to come out of that and say, 'all right, we have to make some changes.' And as it turns out, the changes we can make can benefit us in the long-term."

The issues for California are wide-ranging. Snow in winter is becoming less reliable which means the snowpack, which supplies water for much of the state in dry months, simply either isn't there or at very high elevations. Warmer global temperatures are also increasing the height of the seas, meaning surges from storms or tides can now impact some California coastal towns.

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