A groundbreaking new study led by UCLA climate expert Alex Hall shows that climate change will cause temperatures in the Los Angeles region to rise by an average of 4 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit by the middle of this century, tripling the number of extremely hot days in the downtown area and quadrupling the number in the valleys and at high elevations.
Released today, "Mid-Century Warming in the Los Angeles Region" is the first study to provide specific climate-change predictions for the greater Los Angeles area, with unique predictions down to the neighborhood level. The report, the most sophisticated regional climate study ever developed, was produced by UCLA with funding and support from the city of Los Angeles ( news release ), in partnership with the Los Angeles Regional Collaborative for Climate Action and Sustainability (LARC). It is available online at c-change.la.
"The changes our region will face are significant, and we will have to adapt," said Hall, an associate professor in UCLA’s Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences who is also a lead author on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, which, among other things, assess global climate-change simulations for the United Nations.
"Every season of the year in every part of the county will be warmer," Hall said. "This study lays a foundation for the region to confront climate change. Now that we have real numbers, we can talk about adaptation."
The LARC’s unprecedented coalition of cities, universities, businesses, non-profits and other agencies made the study possible. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the city of Los Angeles led the way, obtaining a $613,774 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to study and share climate research and committing $484,166 to commission UCLA’s climate-change study. Though scientists knew to expect warming, this is the first time policymakers in the Los Angeles area have precise information on which to base their plans.
"UCLA’s model shows projected climate changes down to the neighborhood level, allowing us to apply the rigor of science to long-term planning for our city and our entire region," Villaraigosa said. "With good data driving good policies, we can craft innovative solutions that will preserve our environment and enhance the quality of life for the next generation of Angelenos."
The study looked at the years 2041–60 to predict the average temperature change by mid-century. The data covers all of Los Angeles County and 30 to 60 miles beyond, including all of Orange County and parts of Ventura, San Bernardino and Riverside counties, and reaching as far as Palm Springs, Bakersfield and Santa Barbara. The study overlaid this entire area with a grid of squares 1.2 miles across and provided unique temperature predictions for each square. This is in contrast to global climate models, which normally use grids 60 to 120 miles across — big enough to include areas as different as Long Beach and Lancaster.
According to the study, coastal areas like Santa Monica and Long Beach are likely to warm an average of 3 to 4 degrees. Dense urban areas like downtown Los Angeles and the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys will warm an average of 4 degrees, and mountain and desert regions like Palm Springs and Lancaster will warm 4 to 5 degrees.
Some of the smallest changes predicted, yet still nearing a 4-degree increase, are in Oxnard (3.68 degrees), Venice (3.70), Santa Barbara (3.73), Santa Monica (3.74), San Pedro (3.78), Torrance (3.80), Long Beach (3.82) and Santa Ana (3.85). Among the highest predicted increases are Wrightwood (5.37), Big Bear Lake (5.23), Palm Springs (5.15), Palmdale (4.92), Lancaster (4.87), Bakersfield (4.48) and Santa Clarita (4.44). Table 2 in the study calls out 27 distinct locations, such as downtown Los Angeles (3.92), San Fernando (4.19), Woodland Hills (4.26), Eagle Rock (3.98), Pasadena (4.05), Pomona (4.09), Glendale (3.99) and Riverside (4.23).
These figures are only annual averages, and the day-to-day increase in temperatures will vary, said Hall, who is a member of UCLA’s Institute of the Environment and Sustainability (IoES) and director of the institute’s Center for Climate Change Solutions. Southern Californians should expect slightly warmer winters and springs but much warmer summers and falls, with more frequent heat waves. Temperatures now seen only on the seven hottest days of the year in each region will occur two to six times as often. The number of days when the temperature will climb above 95 degrees will increase two to four times, depending on the location. Those days will roughly double on the coast, triple in downtown Los Angeles and Pasadena, and quadruple in Woodland Hills. In Palm Springs, the number of extremely hot days will increase from an annual average of 75 to roughly 120.
"Places like Lancaster and Palm Springs are already pretty hot areas, and when you tack on warming of 5 to 6 degrees, that’s a pretty noticeable difference," Hall said. "If humans are noticing it, so are plants, animals and ecosystems. These places will be qualitatively different than they are now."