100 Degrees and Climbing: Climate Change and Its Impact on California


credit: Garry Knight Californians suffering in the 100 degree heat.

Kenneth Yaganov

California is famous for Hollywood, Disneyland, and the Golden Gate Bridge. However, it is also known for its wildfires, droughts, and heat waves. Last month from September 5th to September 8th, California residents experienced a 4-day heat wave, with the highest temperature in the Bay Area at 112 Fahrenheit. Multiple cities in the Bay Area set record temperature highs with Livermore at 112 degrees Fahrenheit, eclipsing the previous high of 110 degrees set more than seventy years ago in 1944, and San Jose at 104 shattering the prior high of 100 set in 1904. As the temperature goes down to a normalized range, people are left wondering, ”what happened?”

To be succinct, global warming has been wreaking havoc with climate all over the country, and California is significantly impacted by heat waves and wildfires. The heat wave has had a significant effect on people’s daily lives, with delays in sports games and rolling power outages. “We had to cancel practice because of the heat,’’ said Amrita Avadhani, a Wilcox freshman who plays field hockey. And to be reasonable, only Superman can play a sport in 100+ degree weather. 


Additionally, one of Wilcox’s biology teachers, Brad Beadell, stated  “the future of California will have to face coastal flooding and more drought conditions due to climate change. Drought conditions, in turn, will lead to water shortages and more wildfires.”


One of the effects of the heat wave was the strain on the power grid. As more and more Californians turned on their air conditioners to overcome the heat, the state’s electrical grid was strained because of too many people using electricity, leading to rolling blackout warnings. While California managed to avoid rolling blackouts this time, minor outages did occur and the impact could be worse with the next major heat wave. Power outages are no stranger to California, with more than 50,000 blackout events as recently as 2019. Most power outages are caused by weather conditions, such as dry wildfires and extreme heat and drought. 


While California has been focused on moving to renewable energy such as wind or solar power, one of the downsides has been the reliability of the power grid as cloud cover can impact solar energy generation while lack of wind can hamper wind power generation. In fact, the concern over power grid reliability has led to a five-year extension of the state’s last remaining nuclear power plant at Diablo Canyon, which was expected to shut down by 2025.



Additionally, wildfires have been affecting California since 1950. While most wildfires start due to human-related causes, climate change has led to conditions such as drought and heat waves, which extend and propagate the fires more rapidly compared to the past. According to PBS News Hour, seven of the top 10 most destructive fires of all time have occurred since 2015. In 2020, extreme drought conditions and lightning storms led to the burning of more than 4.3M acres in the state. Although most animals can survive fires, it alters their environment permanently. Food sources are destroyed or infected, leaving them vulnerable to starvation. Wildfires can also cause significant damage to property and infrastructure, with the Dixie fire of 2021 completely destroying the town of Greeneville in northern California. While 2022 has so far been a better year with regards to wildfires, we note that October is still considered peak fire season so the impact could get worse.


While heat waves and wildfires are considered a major threat,  another potential impact of climate change is the rise of sea levels. By 2030, sea levels could rise by half a foot on the California coastline. As of today, around 200 miles of the California coastline are in low-lying areas that are likely to be impacted by flooding. The area impacted by flooding is expected to increase to 500+ miles by 2050 due to sea-level rise, which puts a higher percentage of the population at risk, while also increasing the risk of damage to property and infrastructure.


The effects of climate change, drought, heat waves, and wildfires are some of the challenges facing California. While the government is making changes such as moving to renewable energy and promoting electric cars, there is still much work to be done to stave off the worst effects of climate change. One of the more interesting numbers from the Nature Conservancy suggests the average lifetime carbon footprint of an individual in the U.S is 16 tons, whereas the global average is 4 tons. Now is the time for people not just in California, but in all of the U.S. to take action to lower their individual carbon footprint so that our planet can be saved from the worst effects of climate change.