California’s Mediterranean Climate Vulnerable to Global Warming – The New York Times
The allure of California has long been its almost unbelievably good weather: predictably dry summers and pleasant, if occasionally rainy, winters. Who wouldn’t want to escape swampy heat for this temperate paradise?
Our typically agreeable weather (current heat wave notwithstanding) is officially called a Mediterranean-type climate, defined as having cool, wet winters and dry, warm summers. Only five places in the world share this climate: California, Central Chile, southwestern Australia, South Africa and, of course, the Mediterranean Basin.
“The California climate of having this several-month period of no rain that coincides with the hottest time of the year is globally really weird,” said Anna Jacobsen, plant ecology professor at California State University, Bakersfield. “It’s a really special and kind of unique climate cycle.”
The location of these five ecosystems is no accident. All are on the western edge of continents, between 30 and 45 degrees latitude, with a cold polar current running along the coast. Prevailing wind patterns and the cold current effectively prevent precipitation in the summer, the season when rainfall is most likely in the rest of the world.
The desirable weather that results is not only a draw for humans, but also tends to foster a wide variety of plant and animal species. All five regions are recognized as global biodiversity hot spots, accounting for roughly 2 percent of the world’s land area but nearly 20 percent of its plant species, said Dick Cameron, director of science for land and climate programs at the Nature Conservancy in California.
California in particular, with its varied topography and microclimates, is home to more than 5,000 species of plants, roughly a quarter of which exist only within the state. “Plants far and away are our contribution to global biodiversity,” Cameron told me.
But the unique characteristics of Mediterranean-type climates also make them more susceptible to the impacts of global warming. Because California, for example, gets so much of its annual rainfall from a handful of storms in the winter, even small shifts in weather conditions can produce large effects.
In other words, the very characteristics that make these climates famous (the rain-free summers) “predispose those regions to water scarcity,” said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles. “If the storms don’t occur during the wet season, you’re screwed.”
Plus, increasingly warm weather exacerbates drought conditions by melting snowpacks and quickly evaporating water that’s stored in lakes and the soil. California is currently in the midst of a historic drought, and South Africa, southwestern Australia and the Mediterranean Basin have all grappled with severe droughts in recent years too.
These Mediterranean-type climate ecosystems were already dry places that global warming is making even drier, said Brandon Pratt, professor of biology at California State University, Bakersfield. He put it this way: “You’re already on the margin and now you leave the margin and you jump off the cliff.”
That’s adding up to worse fire seasons too, experts say. These regions have long experienced fires, and their landscapes are in many ways adapted to burn, Swain said.
But the exceptionally parched land and warmer temperatures are fueling fires that become far more destructive than what’s normal. “All of those places are places that have big issues with wildfire.”
Where we’re traveling
Today’s tip comes from Christina Arrostuto, who recommends San Francisco’s backyard:
“As kids in the 1960s, summer in San Francisco’s North Bay Area meant glorious freedom to roam and play until the streetlights came on, with occasional day trips around the Bay. We’d set off for inner tubing at Conn Dam in Napa, roaming fog-kissed Muir Woods, or sandy picnics in Santa Cruz. If we saved, there would be a whole glorious week at Pine Grove or Clear Lake. Endless sunny days and warm starry nights with, as Chuck Berry put it, no particular place to go.
Most of these slices of heaven are still there for us to enjoy. We recently spent 3 nights at the Inn on the Russian River in Monte Rio. Owner Karen O’Brien has managed to keep this charming, rustic spot open through floods, a pandemic and smoke from faraway fires. The rooms are like little cabins, with a leafy lawn that slopes right down to the river, so bring your flip-flops and paddle boards. This is a perfect jumping-off point for a drive to the ocean (Duncans Mills, Bodega Bay, Goat Rock, Jenner), roaming among the Sequoias at Armstrong Woods, riding the Skunk Train from Willits or Ft. Bragg, and eating family style at Occidental’s Union Hotel or Negri’s.
Who needs theme parks, water slides, fancy resorts? We make our own fun in San Francisco’s backyard, the North Bay Area.”
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to CAtoday@nytimes.com. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
Californians: Have growing concerns about climate change affected how you live your life? Have you made any changes? If so, we want to hear about them. (Have you adjusted any daily routines, changed your job or made new financial decisions?)
And before you go, some good news
Jamil Jan Kochai knew only 10 letters in the English alphabet when his parents immigrated to West Sacramento from Pakistan when he was 7.
His second-grade teacher, Susan Lung, spent nearly every day after school with him, teaching him how to read and write in English.
The lessons clearly stuck. Two decades later, Kochai is now a published author, The Washington Post reports.
And he was able to thank his former teacher in person last month, when both Lung and her husband attended one of Kochai’s book events.
“When I saw Ms. Lung there, my heart dropped,” Kochai said. “It wasn’t like seeing someone from my past, it was like seeing someone that I’ve known and cared for and loved all my life.”
“I gave her a big hug; a hug I had been waiting 20 years to give her.”
Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya
P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Italian response to thanks (5 letters).
Isabella Grullón Paz, Francis Mateo and Briana Scalia contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at CAtoday@nytimes.com.