The past summer was the hottest ever in the Northern Hemisphere.
In fact, scientists announced last week that June, July and August this year were the warmest on record globally, confirming that the horrific heat waves in many places were as awful as they seemed.
But, as you’re probably already aware, the summer didn’t bring record-breaking heat to California.
Some daily temperature records were broken in July in Palm Springs, Anaheim and Redding, but overall, the Golden State actually enjoyed its coolest summer since 2011, said Dan McEvoy, a researcher with the Western Regional Climate Center. That’s a particularly big relief after three consecutive summers that all ranked among our 10 most sizzling on record.
The northern third of California was warmer than usual (compared with the past 30 years) because of a high-pressure system over the Pacific Northwest that reached into the northernmost parts of the state, McEvoy told me. But Southern California experienced below-normal temperatures, from low-pressure systems over the region throughout the summer and from the cooling effect of Hurricane Hilary, he said. (Much of Southern California was also uncharacteristically cloudy this summer, with ordinarily sunny places like San Diego experiencing prolonged bouts of overcast skies.)
There isn’t a whole lot to make of California’s seasonal reprieve from the heat, other than that there are year-to-year fluctuations within an overall warming trend, especially at the local level. In other words, California is still experiencing the effects of climate change and generally getting hotter, even if this summer didn’t set records for scorching weather across the state, experts say.
“California has been hit hard in recent years, not so much this summer,” Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at U.C.L.A, told reporters last week. “But that won’t hold forever.”
And there’s an important caveat: The summer of 2023 was still pretty warm when compared with all recorded summers in California. It ranks as the 34th warmest summer in the past 129 years, McEvoy told me.
In other words, it may have seemed unusually cool partly because we’ve become accustomed to scorchers.
California’s 10 warmest summers, starting with the absolute hottest were: 2021, 2017, 2018, 2022, 2006, 2016, 2015, 1961, 1996 and 2020.
Soumya Karlamangla is a reporter with The New York Times. Copyright, The New York Times, 2023.