What does climate change mean for Sierra Nevada resources and communities?
Megastorms and Megadroughts
2016 was the hottest year on record, with 2017 following close behind. Temperatures are rising at faster rates in the mountains than other regions, leading to more extreme variation between precipitation and dry spells - meaning a highly fluctuating climate.
The unofficial term "Megastorm" refers to the increasingly intense storm events projected to occur with the warming mountain climate. Examples of these storms are the atmospheric river events that shook the Sierra and much of California in January and February 2017, bringing in higher than average amounts of precipitation over a short time period.
In general, less frequent but more extreme precipitation is projected in the Sierra, which is linked to the following effects:
- More rain, less snow (Primary source here)
- Decreased snowpack (Primary source here)
- Early season snowmelt (Primary source here)
- Abnormally large amounts of precipitation over short time spans (Primary source here)
- Flash flooding (Primary source here)
- Landslides (Primary source here)
- Lush and early spring blooms, leading to more dead growth and tinder in the wildfire season (Primary source here)
"Megadrought", on the other hand, refers to longer, hotter, and drier spells of drought much like the moderate to extreme drought period experienced in California between 2012 and 2016; these are expected to increase in frequency with the projected warming climate. Associated effects include:
- Decreased snowpack (Primary source here)
- Early snowmelt (Primary source here)
- Changing lake temperatures (Primary source here)
- Severe water shortages (Primary source here)
- Hotter, drier conditions (Primary source here)
- Tree mortality (Primary source here)
- More frequent and severe wildfires (Primary source here)
You may notice that many of the effects linked to greater periods of drought are also linked to abnormal precipitation events. For example, as warming temperatures bring more rain than snow in the winters, and less precipitation during the summer months, a significant decrease in snow pack accumulation over the years will be a likely effect of climate change.
How can I find information more specific to the Sierra and my sub-region?
Many of the following resources include global, national, state, and Sierra-specific studies and interactive portals designed to project climate change effects by region. Information is available regarding Sierra wildlife, human health, forests, and more. Click the buttons to explore.
Global and National Resources
Climate Change and Human Health Literature Portal
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
A knowledge management tool. Using basic search functions, it locates the most relevant scientific literature on the health implications of climate change.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
Translates abstract climate data into useful information.
Climate Change Adaptation Resource Center (ARC-X): Implications of Climate Change
Environmental Protection Agency
This resource center focuses on helping communities adapt to the changes as documented in the U.S. National Climate Assessment (2014). The ARC-X has a particular focus on climate impacts related to EPA's statutory responsibilities, as the Agency works to fulfill its mission of protecting human health and the environment.
The Nature Conservancy, The University of Washington, and The University of Southern Mississippi
Climate Wizard enables technical and non-technical audiences alike to access leading climate change information and visualize the impacts anywhere on Earth. View historic temperature and rainfall maps for anywhere in the world, state-of-the-art future predictions of temperature and rainfall around the world, and download climate change maps in a few easy steps.
State and Local Resources
California Energy Commission
Cal-Adapt provides a view of how climate change might affect California. It synthesizes volumes of downscaled climate change projections and climate impact research from California's scientific community. Here you will find tools, climate data, and resources to conduct research, develop adaptation plans and build applications.
California Climate Console
Conservation Biology Institute
The climate console is a web application designed for exploring climate change projections for a selected area of interest. Search by county, ecoregion, national forests, and more.
Projected Effects of Climate Change in California: Ecoregional Summaries Emphasizing Consequences for Wildlife
Point Blue Conservation Science
A report synthesizing information on the effects of climate change on wildlife according to California "ecoregions," or ecologically defined regions. (Sierra Nevada Ecoregion: page 18).
California Landscape Conservation Cooperative
Discover climate change data and related resources, information about the science that produced it, and guidance for applying climate change science to conservation in California.
Climate Adaptation Project: Future Climate, Wildfire, Hydrology, and Vegetation Projections for the Sierra Nevada
This project is intended to help guide and support a manager or planner in strategically integrating the challenges of climate change into their management of Sierra Nevada resources. The main products focus on understanding vulnerabilities to climate change and implementing adaptation actions.
State of the Sierra Nevada's Forests Report
Sierra Nevada Conservancy
This report is intended to inform policy makers, interested parties and the public of the dire current state of many of the forests of the Sierra Nevada, the critical benefits that are at risk, and the key policy and investment issues that must be urgently addressed if these forests are to be returned to a healthy, resilient state.
Climate Change And Health Vulnerability Indicators for California
California Department of Health's California Building Resilience Against Climate Effects project (CalBRACE)
The CalBRACE Project developed climate change and health indicators data to provide local health departments and partners the tools to better understand the people and places in their jurisdictions that are more susceptible to adverse health impacts associated with climate change, particularly for extreme heat, wildfire, sea level rise, drought, and poor air quality. The assessment data can be used to screen and prioritize where to focus deeper analysis and plan for public health actions to increase resilience.