California’s a Hot (Weather) Mess Right Now

The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Aug. 4 2014 7:05 PM

California’s a Hot (Weather) Mess Right Now

It’s not supposed to rain in Southern California this time of year. But it did on Sunday, with tragic consequences. One man died as his car was washed away near Mount Baldy in San Bernardino County, according to the Weather Channel.

An unusually active southwesterly monsoon streamed moisture northward, with the San Gabriel Mountains just north of the Los Angeles metro area acting as a giant ramp, forcing the clouds upward and squeezing out hefty amounts of rainfall.

Advertisement

According to the National Weather Service in Los Angeles, it was the first time that rain had ever been measured in much of Southern California on Aug. 3—normally the middle of the dry season. The storms brought a lot of lightning, too, just days after a bolt killed a 20-year-old at Venice Beach:

As of midday Monday, one California town was still cut off by mudslides, stranding hundreds, according to the Los Angeles Times.

That prompted local officials to call for help:

The situation appeared ongoing as of Monday afternoon:

Meanwhile, across typically lush Northern California, fresh wildfires were raging.

At least 120,000 acres are burning across the state right now (nearly the size of San Francisco), egged on by intensifying drought and much-above-normal temperatures. Since July 1, virtually the entire state has been warmer than average, with the greatest departures where the biggest fires are currently burning. Over the weekend, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency, intended to improve firefighters’ ability to contain the blazes. As of July 26, the latest day for which data was available, there’ve been 45 percent more fires than normal for this time of the year in California, according to CAL FIRE. As I reported earlier this year, global warming has helped lengthen the state’s fire season.

The weather topsy-turvyness should continue at least for the first part of this week, as the risk of flash floods shifts up to Northern California. The moist monsoon flow is creating an atmosphere that’s 200 percent wetter than normal—a once-a-decade type setup, according to the NWS. Despite the worst drought in state history, the storms aren’t welcome and may even make things worse. According to the National Weather Service in Sacramento, “isolated lightning strikes outside of the thunderstorm rain core combined with very dry fuels could lead to new fire starts.”

FT-140804-California1
Warm weather combined with a building drought has made for a very active fire season this year.

Image: Western Regional Climate Center

FT-140804-California2
Much of the West Coast is on fire right now.

Image: National Interagency Fire Center

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Eric Holthaus is a meteorologist who writes about weather and climate for Slate’s Future Tense. Follow him on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Alabama’s Insane New Abortion Law Gives Fetuses Lawyers and Puts Teenage Girls on Trial

Tattoo Parlors Have Become a Great Investment

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?

Big Problems With the Secret Service Were Reported Last Year. Nobody Cared.

Crime

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 2 2014 11:01 AM It Wasn’t a Secret A 2013 inspector general report detailed all of the Secret Service’s problems. Nobody cared.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 2 2014 12:58 PM Why Can’t States Do More to Protect Patients From Surprise Medical Bills? It’s complicated.
  Life
Lexicon Valley
Oct. 2 2014 1:05 PM What's Wrong With "America's Ugliest Accent"
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 2 2014 12:37 PM St. Louis Study Confirms That IUDs Are the Key to Lowering Teen Pregnancy Rates
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 2 2014 1:29 PM Want to Know What Makes David Fincher Great? Focus on What He Doesn’t Do.
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 2 2014 1:22 PM If Someone Secretly Controlled What You Say, Would You Notice? What cyranoid experiments reveal about how people act.  
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 2 2014 12:53 PM The Panic Virus How public health officials are keeping Americans calm about the Ebola threat.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?