Storms, lighting, death at Venice beach: Climate change?

As Judith Lewis Mernit wrote for a blog with High Country News:

The weather of Venice Beach, California, where I live, is for the most part stable, and almost always predictable. No sudden squalls appear out of the southwest to chase skateboarders off their concrete ramps; never do we hear the civil-defense sirens warning of an approaching tornado. Living here, swimming and surfing at the beach a few blocks from my house, I have considered many threats: sharks, staph infections, rogue rip tides. Lightning was never on the list.

I didn't go to the beach on Sunday morning, July 27. Crowds generally clog up the swells on weekends, so I escaped to the mountains in Ventura County. When I left, the weather in Venice was gloomy with a mild drizzle — not an unusual syndrome for the Southern California coast — but by the time I hiked and returned to the car at around 3 pm, it had evidently taken a dramatic turn. When I flipped on the radio for the traffic report, I heard that just a half an hour earlier, a bolt of lightning had struck the water near Venice Pier, and 13 people had been injured. Two were found face down in the water.

She — like yours truly, the Los Angeles Times, and no doubt many others — were wondering: Could climate change be responsible?

Well, it's within the range of possibility. Climate models have brought it up. A study from 2013, led by David Pierce of Scripps, ran sixteen different general circulation models and found increasing monsoonal moisture in SoCal:

Winters show modestly wetter conditions in the North of
the state [CA], while spring and autumn show less precipitation.
The dynamical downscaling techniques project increasing
precipitation in the Southeastern part of the state, which is
influenced by the North American monsoon.

But Pierce will be the first to tell you that a) this is a projection fifty years into the future, and b) it's impossible to ascribe any weather event to a change in climate. It's like attributing a single car crash to ten years of traffic congestion. Statistically not possible.

Still, there is data to show an increase in monsoonal precipitation. Not only do we have these bizarre weather thunder and lighting storms at places like Santa Catalina Island and Venice beach, but we have a strong upsurge in monsoonal moisture this year. Keep in mind that these clouds, with their potential for thunder and lighting, come from the south, the Sea of Cortez, and rotate counter-clockwise across the Southwest, roughly speaking the reverse of the winter weather pattern we're accustomed to. 

Here's the monsoonal precipitation over Albuquerque this year: the highest in over 100 years [green line].  


From John Fleck, a weather and climate reporter in Albuquerque. And here, from Daniel Swain's interesting Weather West site/feed, an image of the monsoonal surge a week [precipitable water anomalies, in green] a week before the storms that brought death to Venice beach.


It's too soon to connect the dots to climate — but not too soon to take cover. 

Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

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