Here comes the sun, maybe?

A scientific view on the wacky weather we’ve been having the past couple of weeks and throughout a majority of this winter season.


Alex Carlin, News Editor

When’s the last time we’ve had sunshine for a week straight? How about even three or four days? It sure has been a while since we’ve had long stretches of sun like we are accustomed to in California.

It is winter, which brings about more cold, cloudy and rainy days than any other season, but these past few months have still been very abnormal even by winter’s standards. Rainfall seems to be happening almost on the regular, and on days where it is not the piercing wind that has approached and even exceeded 20 miles per hour that is making the outdoors not a very fun place to be. When you combine the two it gets even more crazy. 

The most extreme instance of this was on January 10th, when a roaring thunderstorm came to town in the middle of the night with loud thunder and ubiquitous lightning, a very rare occurrence here in California. It was a talking point the next day, as many were awoken from the storm itself or the tornado warning that came with it. A storm of this severity hasn’t hit Modesto in a long time. It has also hailed multiple times since that storm. And then last week we were shown the wacky weather patterns again when snowfall was seen in elevations as low as 1,000 feet, which saw areas that almost never get snow experience the phenomena. Even places as close as Oakdale got hit with a little bit of snow. It has been a season of crazy weather to remember for sure.

All of this has us wondering, why? How come the bad weather has come both more frequently and with more severity in this cycle of winter? How come we’re still dealing with this when spring is right around the corner?

Well the answer is one that is rather ironic in nature, and it is Global Warming. Yes, climate change that is associated with the warming of our planet in an unhealthy manner is leading to colder and more severe weather here in California, a typically sunny state. How can this be?

A lot of it has to do with the atmosphere and its capacity to hold moisture. As the temperature of the air increases, so does the atmosphere’s capacity for moisture. By a large amount too. For every 1 degree Celsius that the temperature increases, the atmosphere is able to hold 7% more moisture. As a result, more severe rainstorms and longer periods of storms become more and more present as global warming due to fossil fuels has happened at a faster and faster rate.  These severe rainstorms are called atmospheric rivers, and these rivers are what we have been experiencing here for the past 3 months or so. The atmosphere has been the driving factor for why the rains have been so bad.

However, rain isn’t the only effect of a changing atmosphere. The bad winds can be attributed to atmospheric aspects also. Because of a higher capacity for moisture in the atmosphere, this leads to the atmospheric pressure to change more at the same rate. Because of this, this means that the pressure actually rises or falls at a faster rate than it did before. The cause of high winds is rapidly changing atmospheric pressure, and that is exactly what global warming is causing to happen. So climate change is not only the culprit of severe rain and atmospheric rivers but also the crazy winds that have been present throughout this winter season.

If anything can be shown with the presence of this crazy weather, it’s that climate change and global warming are very real and very present in our lives. So we need to help do everything in our power in order to fight this crisis that is clearly affecting our everyday lives.