2017 brought extraordinary summer heat to California. While record-breaking early-season heatwaves largely spared the immediate coastal areas (but brought endless weeks of searing triple-digit heat to interior areas), extreme temperatures extended all the way to the beaches over the past couple of weeks.
The late summer and early autumn months are traditionally warmest of the year in coastal California, as the marine layer tends to become suppressed and offshore winds occasionally allow hotter air to encroach from the east. But the late August and early September heatwave that California just endured was on an entirely different level than those historically experienced–breaking (and, in many cases, shattering) temperature records of all kinds. Countless daily (and monthly) temperature records were set statewide, and this heatwave continued the already record-breaking streak of 100+ degree days across much of the Central Valley. Overnight temperatures stayed well above average daytime highs in many places, and new all-time “warmest minimum” records were set. Quite a few coastal or near-coastal California cities matched or exceeded their all-time temperature records for any month–an impressive list that spans from the North Coast (Eureka) to the central coast (San Luis Obispo) and apparently even includes (amazingly) the Farallon Islands in the midst of California’s cold oceanic upwelling zone. Easily the most amazing statistic during this extraordinary event was the fall of downtown San Francisco’s all-time temperature record, where the observed 106 degrees surged past the previous hottest temperature (103) in 147 years of record keeping.
It might not be a surprise, therefore, that summer 2017 was officially California’s hottest on record (and much of the Labor Day heatwave actually fell out outside of the formal June-August definition of “summer”). In fact, 2017 broke (by a considerable margin) the previous record set…just last year, in 2016. Indeed, this year once again puts an exclamation point on a sustained, long-term warming trend over the past century in California. Increasing frequency and intensity of extreme heatwaves is one of the clearest hallmarks of our warming climate, and it’s likely that “extreme” temperatures like those experienced this summer will become fairly routine in just a few decades.
California has experienced a sustained long-term warming trend in summer, and 2017 was the warmest season on record. Image: NOAA/NCDC