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Well maybe not all aspects of global warming, but researchers at UCLA are now reporting that climate change is reducing the Santa Ana winds, which exacerbate fires along the coasts of southern California each year. These are the fires that you hear about on the news ever year threatening citizens, burning down entire neighborhoods and obliterating forests. Losing the winds that fuel those fires sounds pretty good. But before you pack your bags and head west, just remember, this is the same area that is overcrowded, struggling for water resources and has poor, smog-filled air quality - can climate change cure these things in the region? What Makes Scientists so Sure About the Santa Anas?
The winds blow westward because of a buildup in pressure in the mountain area, like Simi Valley for example, that then spills down to lower pressure areas along the coast. Temperature changes also bring the winds west, as the desert is warmer, the winds blow to the cooler, ocean areas. What is changing is that the ocean areas are warming up faster now in the fall, making this "temperature forcing" less powerful - less of a temperature difference means less of a push to get to the ocean for the winds. In fact, scientists have measured a one-third drop in the temperature differences and the gap is steadily getting smaller.
Years of both observed and calculated data allow scientists to better understand that while the planet may be warming, different areas will experience new and different pressure patterns. The findings are still new and have yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal but should be published in Climate next year. One local meteorologist notes that the winds are showing up later each year and have less strength, but that the data in the study may not go far enough back to show a definitive change in the Santa Anas.
What are the Santa Anas?
The Santa Ana winds are responsible for bringing typically hot, dry air from the deserts in southern California to the coast. The winds typically move through in the late fall and winter just as the landscape and brush is dry after roughly 9 months of no rain, so the area is ready to light up like, well, wildfire, and typically does.
What does this loss of Santa Ana winds also mean?
The winds are responsible for bringing warm air in the winter to the area - making it nice for tourists and locals - and for pushing smog back away from Los Angeles and San Diego out over the ocean. The winds also deposit nutrients from the desert into the Southern California Bight and help pull up nutrients from deep levels in the ocean. Without the Santa Anas, this also means coastal areas will be cooler in summer, in California particularly at elevations under 1,000 feet, as wind and pressure patterns change. Researchers are suggesting the cooler temperatures also mean fewer days where air conditioning is needed and fewer smog days, which are partially determined by high temperatures. As temperatures warm up faster in the fall/winter along the coast, this causes the Santa Anas to be less intense and last for shorter timespans.
Global Warming and Southern California
Before you pack your bags and head west, there are a few negative consequences of global warming that will far outweigh some seasonally good temperatures along the coasts. Sea-level rise, erosion, harder and more damaging rains, flooding from the mountain snow melt and storm surges are all predicted. Not to mention the general rule that the "wet will be wetter and the dry will be drier" - southern California being more of a desert means the struggle for water resources will only intensify, along with the rest of the state. There is even some evidence to show that the area will become a drought-stricken region by 2050 (think: Dustbowl in Oklahoma). What are we to do: one researcher suggests reducing stress on the region - meaning no more people moving to the area and other people choosing to move away. But with the perfect year-round climate, dry air, beautiful scenery and laid-back lifestyle, the battle to move anywhere else will be hard fought until the situation is again on ones' doorstep.
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