Publication Date December 10, 2019

California Threats Jump from Fires to Floods as Wet Season Hits

United States
Firefighters search for people trapped in mudslide debris in Montecito, California in 2018.

Signals Summary: Rising temperatures due to climate change are causing California snowpack to melt earlier and faster, which lowers streamflow later in the spring and summer, making droughts more common

Article Excerpt: California’s climate threats could soon be jumping from wildfires and blackouts to floods and mudslides as the wet season kicks into gear.


“California has always been a land of extremes, it has just got a lot worse in recent years,” said Peter Gleick, co-founder of the Pacific Institute, a non-profit that studies climate issues. “We seem to segue right from fire season into either drought or flood, with nothing in between.”


Warm winter storms can “release a whole lot of water,” Fogg said in a telephone interview. “And that’s where we get the flood hazards downstream, especially in the Central Valley and coastal basins.” Meanwhile, early release from the snow pack means less water available when summer hits, raising drought risks.


Climate change has made a mark on California’s water cycle, Fogg said. But research is underway looking at how best to deal with storms that bring more rain than snow. One potential solution is to capture the water flowing out of the mountains, and use it to recharge aquifers in the central and southern part of the state.