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Feature Stories

Long Beach's Climate Questioned

From Issue: Volume XXII - Number 13
6/27/2014


By Kirt Ramirez

Why are the shores of Long Beach typically warmer than other Southern California beaches?

For the past four summers, the Beachcomber has asked a climate question. In a June 17, 2011 article “May Gray Turns to June Gloom,” Long Beach City College geography instructor Douglas Fetters and other authorities explained why California has cold water and why clouds hug the coast in late spring and early summer.

In a June 29, 2012 article “SoCal Weather Myths Debunked,” with the help of Fetters and other experts, the Beachcomber tackled common misconceptions tourists have about Southern California – that the beaches are hot, the climate tropical, that palm trees are native to the coast and that it essentially doesn’t rain at all. This is all untrue.

In a June 28, 2013 article “SoCal Climate Questioned,” Fetters and other sources explained why in essence it doesn’t rain in the summertime, that native plants have adapted to the unique cycle of cold, wet winters and warm, dry summers and that Mediterranean climate zones occur on less than two percent of the Earth’s surface.

This year Fetters addresses why beachgoers might find it colder at other beaches than at Long Beach’s. Even 45 miles south in San Clemente the beaches are often several degrees cooler in the summer than the shores of Long Beach.

As an example, on June 23 during the warmest part of the day – 2:30 p.m. – San Clemente was 67 F (19 C) while downtown Long Beach was 73 F (23 C).

Although the Long Beach coast still remains cool year-round, one might assume the warmer temperatures are because Long Beach is a south-facing beach. As Long Beach curves and faces south, most other strands along California face west and get hit with the cold Pacific wind straight on. In Long Beach’s case, the prevailing winds typically have to blow over Rancho Palos Verdes and San Pedro first before arriving here.

However, Fetters said this assumption/theory isn’t the tell-all.
“Based on most studies of Long Beach climate, most researchers attribute higher temperatures to the urban heat island effect. This is mostly an ‘in-place’ phenomenon. In other, words, heat generated from industry, cars, asphalt, lack of tree coverage and even the heat from human bodies themselves, creates a localized micro climate that is characterized by generally overall higher temperatures.

“Sure, it’s possible that prevailing winds passing over nearby adjacent San Pedro could enhance this phenomenon. However, I haven’t seen much research addressing that topic as of yet. Such research would need to consider many factors such as consistency of prevailing winds, distance decay and composition of the atmosphere on perhaps a week-to-week or month-to-month basis (i.e. humidity, pollutants and other factors that could affect its ability to hold in heat).

“In other words, it would take a bit of careful research to build a case that San Pedro’s own urban heat island effect influences that of Long Beach. Although it appears to do so, proximity would not be enough to correlate San Pedro as a primary contributing cause. As for Palos Verdes, its micro climate would have little effect on heating prevailing winds. Palos Verdes in general, has much less, if any heavy industry and much more tree coverage.”

Fetters found a heat island effect map of Long Beach’s west side via the city’s website, which a city official said was made as part of a larger RiverLink Project, which addresses connections and green space specifically along the L.A. River. “The project came out of a Cal Poly Pomona landscape architectural graduate studies project.
The heat island map was part of the students work,” said Anna Mendiola of the Parks Department.

Fetters continued, “Based on what I’ve read, the heat island effect accounts for most of the higher temperatures, but the Palos Verdes hills do block a good portion of the prevailing west-east wind flow, causing heat to remain in place (reduced circulation). Huntington and San Clemente aren’t affected by any of this.

“As for Huntington and San Clemente, not too much heavy industry in those towns,” Fetters added.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency describes the urban heat island effect:

“As urban areas develop, changes occur in their landscape. Buildings, roads, and other infrastructure replace open land and vegetation. Surfaces that were once permeable and moist become impermeable and dry. These changes cause urban regions to become warmer than their rural surroundings, forming an ‘island’ of higher temperatures in the landscape.”

This probably means the Bixbys and other early settlers had cooler weather in the old days when Long Beach was only two ranches between lots of open land.

Meanwhile, California could get heavier rains this coming fall and winter courtesy of El Niño. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration spokesperson, Susan Buchanan, provided an El Niño update on June 23:

“Scientists at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center first issued an El Niño Watch on May 8. They continued the Watch in the June 5 forecast update, but upped the probability that El Niño would develop to 70 percent during the Northern Hemisphere summer and 80 percent during the fall and winter. The climate models slightly favor a moderate-strength El Niño event during the Northern Hemisphere fall or winter. However, significant uncertainty accompanies this prediction. The next monthly forecast update will be issued on July 10.”

kirt@longbeachcomber.com