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PARALLEL UNIVERSE: Global Warming, Urbanization Contribute to Record Heat in Southern California

Posted by kinchendavid on July 26, 2006

By David M. Kinchen

Hinton, WV   – I called a friend in Encino, CA the other night to ask him how he and his family were holding up under the kind of weather than seems more appropriate to Death Valley than the San Fernando Valley. Nearby Woodland Hills recorded a record 119 degrees F, far above the usual 95-100 this time of the year.


He said the power was out in the next block, but so far the window A/C was keeping his little house from becoming a bake oven. The heat wave has put the already fragile power grid in much of California under unusual stress.


Living in nearby Van Nuys for 15 years, I remember the summers very well. We moved to the Valley in 1977 for affordable housing, but we certainly didn’t reckon with the heat that began in May or June and lasted well into November. At least, it cooled off at night, after 11 p.m. or so.


Not so in this latest example of a combination of global warming and massive development, where almost every square inch of land is occupied by a structure. If you include Burbank, there are more people in the 200 or so square miles of the Valley than there are in the entire state of West Virginia, with almost 25,000 square miles


A July 25, 2006 story by Hector Becerra in my old paper, the Los Angeles Times, points out the nighttime heat records set in Burbank and other communities have contributed to the discomfort of Southlanders. Burbank set a new record low of 77 degrees, when normally temps would drop into the 50s and 60s at night. (see the box at the end of this story).


Here’s Becerra’s account:


 “A case of hot summer nights has made Southern California’s heat wave feel even more miserable.

”It just isn’t cooling off enough at night, climatologists say. On Sunday, several minimum temperatures were unseasonably high, breaking records.

”At 77, Burbank experienced the warmest nighttime low the city has ever recorded for July. Los Angeles International Airport, Long Beach, Woodland Hills and downtown Los Angeles also saw record high minimum temperatures.

”The night heat is one reason so many power transformers failed: People cranked their air conditioners all night, giving the taxed systems less time to rest before sunrise.

”’’Back in the old days, it got a lot cooler at night. Now, we’re not getting relief at night,’ said William Patzert, a meteorologist for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge.

”Climatologists say global warming gets some of the blame. But the prime villain, they say, is the ever-increasing urbanization of the region. The rapid development of Southern California over the last 50 years has created structures and landscapes that retain heat better than dry desert chaparral.

”Golf courses, shopping centers, housing developments and lush lawns trap heat during the day, keeping temperatures up at night.

”The warm nights lead to torrid daytime temperatures because heating already warm air doesn’t take long, he said.

”’The extreme makeover Southern California got is impacting nighttime temperatures,’ Patzert said.


So, West Virginians, be grateful that development hasn’t overwhelmed our   beautiful state.













Downtown L.A.






Long Beach Airport



Woodland Hills






Santa Barbara



Paso Robles



Santa Maria



Source: National Weather Service



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