Central Coast climate could feel more like Baja and Yuma in 60 years

Feb 13, 2019

What will California's climate feel like in 60 years? For many urban areas, possibly just like much warmer and drier areas of Mexico. That’s according to a new interactive map based on global climate data released this week, which features several Central Coast cities.

This month, NASA and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration found 2018 to be the fourth hottest year on record. Global land and ocean surface temperatures were 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit above average for the century, and other reports indicate this number will rise over the years.

Matthew Fitzpatrick, an ecologist at the University of Maryland Center for Environental Science, said when he hears reports that temperatures will rise several degrees over time, it feels too abstract. So he created a map to show the climate relationships between cities over time.

“The basic question that I wanted to answer was, ‘what does climate change mean in terms of weather and climate for people where they live?’” Fitzpatrick said. “Just how we can measure the distance between two towns, we’re measuring the distance between two places, and we’re just doing it in a climate space instead of a geographic space.”

Using global climate models, Fitzpatrick and a colleague looked at 540 North American urban areas to see what they would feel like in 60 years, towards the end of the century.

“These places all across the board are predicted to undergo some pretty dramatic transformations of climate,” Fitzpatrick said.

Take Paso Robles. Fitzpatrick found in 2080 Paso Robles may feel a lot more like the city of Fontana in San Bernardino County. Fontanta is almost four degrees warmer and 11 percent drier than Paso Robles in the winter. 

A screen shot of the interactive climate map, which shows Santa Maria may have a climate more similar to a city in northern Baja Mexico in 60 years.
Credit University of Maryland, Center for Environmental Science

Also on the map is Santa Maria, which the data says has higher emissions than north San Luis Obispo County. In 60 years, Santa Maria may feel more like its located just south of Ensenada in Mexico, where it’s also four degree warmer, but almost 40 percent drier in the winter.

But that could change.

“We find that reducing emissions does have a large impact,” Fitzpatrick said. “We still see a fair amount of climate change, but it’s less severe.”

On Fitzpatrick's map, there's an option to see what cities will look like with reduced emissions, meaning Santa Maria could feel more like Santa Paula in Ventura County in 60 years. But as current climate models predict, cities with high emissions like Salinas and Bakersfield are currently slated to feel like Baja Mexico and Yuma, Arizona in 2080.

“The average urban dweller is going to have to travel, hopefully using a low-emitting transportation source, about 500 miles to the south to find a climate today like their city is going to be in 2080,” Fitzpatrick said.

According to the map, San Francisco in 60 years could possibly feel like Los Angeles. And L.A., according to Fitzpatrick, like many other urban areas across the nation is going to be warmer in the in 2080 and have a climate not currently seen in North America.

Fitzpatrick's map can toggle between the winter and summer seasons, when you refresh your browser. You can also toggle to see what other locations your cities could end up feeling like in 2080, averaged between the 27 climate models he used. 

Fitzpatrick said he hopes that people will be surprised when they look up their hometown, and it will lead to some changes.

“We all contribute to the problem here so I think we can all contribute to solutions,” Fitzpatrick said. “Trying to get policies in place that address these is really important so that translates to what people do at the ballot box.”