Public figures and members of the media have already speculated that climate change was to blame for recent severe weather across the state of California — but climate scientists are now saying that is not necessarily the case.
The Los Angeles Times reported that scientists told the outlet they have not seen proof of a direct relationship between the recent storms and a changing climate. The storms, rather, are similar to other mega weather events that have hit the state in the past since the 1800s.
The uncertainty of what led to the weather events did not stop some, including Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom, from jumping to conclusions that climate change was leading to the rain.
Last week, Newsom tweeted, “Megadroughts. Wildfires. Historic floods and atmospheric rivers. This whiplash weather is not an anomaly. California is proof that the climate crisis is real and we have to take it seriously.”
Megadroughts. Wildfires. Historic floods and atmospheric rivers.
This whiplash weather is not an anomaly.
California is proof that the climate crisis is real and we have to take it seriously. pic.twitter.com/XWd35aWOOj
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) January 11, 2023
“Hot’s getting a lot hotter,” Newsom also said at a news conference earlier in the week. “Dry’s getting a lot dryer. But the wet’s getting a lot wetter, as well.”
Scientists are now saying that these weather events are not entirely out of the ordinary.
“We know from climate models that global warming will boost California storms of the future, but we haven’t made that connection with the latest storm systems,” Alexander Gershunov, a research meteorologist with Scripps Institution of Oceanography, a UC San Diego department, said.
“Assuming that these storms were driven by global warming would be like assuming an athlete who breaks a record was on steroids,” Gershunov noted.
“A group I call ‘mediaologists’ always hype the current situation to make it seem worse than the last one,” Gershunov said.
Michael Anderson, the state’s climatologist with the Department of Water Resources, reportedly implied that the atmospheric rivers show how harmful flooding can be in such a dry climate.
“Each of the recent atmospheric rivers were within the historical distribution of sizes of atmospheric rivers,” Anderson said, adding, “It will take further study to determine how warming temperatures influenced the sequence or the sudden transition from dry to wet and soon back to dry.”
Jayme Laber, senior hydrologist at the National Weather Service in Los Angeles, California, said the storms weren’t larger than what the state has experienced in the past.
“Overall, it was nothing as big as what we’ve gone through before,” Laber said.
“Most recent storm systems don’t hold a candle to the kinds of extreme prolonged storms of the last century,” Daniel Swain, a UCLA climate scientist, told the outlet. “They do, however, point in the direction of the episodes of hydro-climate we can expect to see more of due to global warming.”
California has seen even more rain in the past, the outlet noted, such as in the season of 1956, when the state had gotten 85.3% of its average yearly precipitation by January 17. As of January 18 of this year, the state has around 70%, the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes reportedly noted.
A. Park Williams, a hydroclimatologist at UCLA, said his work “does not show a connection” between global warming and the California weather.
“Global warming is real,” he said, “and because of it the heaviest storms around the world are getting heavier — except in California and the southwestern United States, where the weather typically swings from too dry to too wet.”
California has been hit with an onslaught of storms over the past few weeks, causing widespread harm across the state while replenishing land and reservoirs that have been in dire need of water after suffering from a drought. At least nineteen people have also tragically lost their lives as a result of the weather.
Reservoirs are being filled up in ways that will provide assistance to areas that have been suffering from drought for years. Shasta Lake, the state’s largest reservoir was at 53% capacity as of January 18. A year ago, it was at 34% capacity, according to KCRA.
The snowpack is also at 250%, and if it remains at 100% by April, that will give residents of California sufficient water. Aquifers, which maintain groundwater, don’t improve as effortlessly, Williams told the Times.