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Warmer winter temperatures in California could make ‘storms more hazardous,’ report says

Winters in California aren’t as cold as they used to be — and that’s not a good thing.

Temperatures across the Central Valley, Central Coast and parts of Southern California have increased at least 2 degrees over the past several decades, according to Climate Central’s “2023 Winter Package.” Other parts of the state have warmed at least 1 degree, and the majority of the U.S. has risen an average of 3.8 degrees, posing a long-term threat to water supplies, energy use, public health and agriculture.

In California, warm and short-lived winters could disturb fruit and nut crops.

Climate Central analyzed temperatures and days recorded above normal between December and February — from 1969-70 to 2022-23 — with data from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration’s Regional Climate Centers.

Climate Central’s “2023 Winter Package” graphic shows the average change in winter temperature between December and February, from 1970 to 2022.
Climate Central’s “2023 Winter Package” graphic shows the average change in winter temperature between December and February, from 1970 to 2022.

“Warmer temperatures can make winter storms more hazardous, with sleet and freezing rain,” Climate Central wrote on its website.

Meteorologist Katrina Hand with the National Weather Service said wet conditions are “certainly a possibility” in California as a “strong” El Niño continues through the winter season.

Historically, El Niño winters have been anywhere from very dry to very wet, with warmer-than-normal temperatures.

It’s unclear what this winter will bring.

In January, extreme winter storms hit the region with historical flooding, downed trees and extensive power outages. There’s a 100% chance El Niño will last the entire winter with a 75 to 85% chance it will be “strong,” The Sacramento Bee previously reported.

The deadly storms led a state once gripped with arid conditions and water shortage out of a three-year drought.

No one in California has lived in a drought area since November — according to a Thursday update from the U.S. Drought Monitor — a significant decrease from roughly 9,800 people in September.

The update showed 0% of California has “moderate drought,” down from 0.07% on Oct. 10. Roughly 4.6% of the state — parts of Siskiyou, Modoc, San Bernardino, Riverside and Imperial counties — remains “abnormally dry” as of Nov. 28. Before that, conditions teetered between 25% and 32% from May to mid-August.

California has been 100% drought-free since October. “Abnormally dry” conditions are located in both the northernmost and southernmost portions of the state including Siskiyou, Modoc, San Bernardino, Riverside and Imperial counties. U.S. Drought Monitor
California has been 100% drought-free since October. “Abnormally dry” conditions are located in both the northernmost and southernmost portions of the state including Siskiyou, Modoc, San Bernardino, Riverside and Imperial counties. U.S. Drought Monitor
Climate Central’s “2023 Winter Package” shows the winter warming trend in Sacramento.
Climate Central’s “2023 Winter Package” shows the winter warming trend in Sacramento.
Climate Central’s “2023 Winter Package” shows the winter warming trend in Sacramento.
Climate Central’s “2023 Winter Package” shows the winter warming trend in Sacramento.