In the state of sun-kissed days and sandy beaches, unusual events are taking place. California, known as the Golden State for its warm climate, is experiencing a dramatic transformation in its winter weather patterns. The world’s greatest threat — climate change — is likely the mastermind behind the state’s record-breaking winter season in 2023.
To understand how climate change drove an unsurpassed winter season in California, it is necessary to understand how this phenomenon causes extreme events. Climate change is primarily driven by the burning of fossil fuels. It releases greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, which traps heat from the sun and raises the Earth’s average temperature. As the Earth’s temperature rises, the atmosphere becomes warmer and holds more moisture. It can turn into precipitation, such as rain when temperatures are warm, or snow when temperatures are below freezing. With more moisture in the atmosphere, more precipitation falls and can trigger extreme weather events like blizzards.
Moreover, rising sea temperatures brought on by climate change are resulting in higher rates of evaporation. Evaporation occurs when heat breaks the bonds that join water molecules together and shifts water from a liquid state to a gaseous state known as water vapor. When water vapor condenses into clouds, large quantities of heat are released into the atmosphere known as latent heat, or the energy that storms utilize as fuel and drive their severity.
From late February to April, California experienced back-to-back intense winter storms.
Ski areas such as Kirkwood, Mammoth, Bear Valley, Dodge Ridge, and Boreal experienced record-breaking snowfall amounts ranging from 56 to 61 feet of snow over the winter season. Mountain ranges such as the Sierra Nevada experienced unparalleled snowfall accumulations of more than 58 feet of snow. Since snowfall is not common in California, the state was unprepared to handle the challenges of wintry conditions. California declared a state of emergency in 13 counties for over a week in the month of March. Houses were buried in snow and commuters were left stranded for hours on roads. With conditions of up to 70 mph, 100,000 people faced power outages and were left without heat and electricity. Due to closed roads, limited visibility, and hazardous driving conditions, emergency services, particularly ambulances, faced significant challenges in reaching those in need. Panic loomed over the Golden State this winter season as the snowfall conditions left Californians unprepared for the wintery chaos.
On March 1, 2023, a resident in Running Springs, California, cleans snow from his residence. David McNew/Getty Images
According to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report, the impacts of climate change are only expected to worsen. The vast uncertainties of Earth’s future loom ahead unless there is action against climate change. California’s unusual 2023 winter season serves as a powerful reminder of how climate change is adversely impacting Earth. Unfortunately, it seems that California’s 2023 winter season is just the beginning of a wake-up call.