What does the snow in California mean?


Carlos Alpuerto

Tologs from the Hill enjoy the magnificent view of the bare and fire-prone San Gabriel Mountains, carpeted in snow in late February and early March.

It’s the last Saturday of February. You wake up, open your curtains and, to your surprise, discover that the brown mountain peaks in the distance are frosted over. This surreal occurrence rarely happens in Southern California, so you take photos and text your friends about it. Smiling, you relish the picturesque view before you, hoping you’ll see it again someday. After all, what’s the harm in a little bit of snow? 

As it turns out, the snow is not harmless. What appeared to be an unforeseen phenomenon could confirm scientists’ expectations about climate change and the rate at which it’s occurring. Not only does the drastic weather shift bring about obstacles, but the tremendous amount of snow and rain also signals a glimpse into our future as rising temperatures are only progressing.

“Initially I thought, It’s great that we are getting rain in California! As the months went on and we contentiously were experiencing intense rainstorms and flooding in different parts of the state, I began to worry. More intense and frequent rainstorms are a sign of climate change,” Meghan Garrity ‘23 said. 

According to a Voice of America Study, nearly 32 trillion gallons of water fell throughout a two-week period, and snow accumulated at elevations lower than ever. The conditions were severe enough to trigger a state-wide blizzard warning, the first of its kind. In fact, the “weather whiplash” set many records. California’s snowpack is deeper than it has been in years. The snowpack, which plays an essential role in the state’s water supply, will be a much-needed reprieve from years of drought.

However, the snowpack is just as negative as it is beneficial. Combined with the heavy rain, this weather could accelerate the amount and rate of run-off and the rate at which it travels. 

Ms. Candace Toogood ‘10, Science Teacher, suspects the snow could pose some risks. 

“Negatives to having such a high snowpack and precipitation events is that specifically Southern California we are not infrastructurally speaking, we have not planned for these very large events,” Ms. Toogood said. “So, this will create flooding. Our trees are now more prone to falling over and they can become weaker.”

In addition to the more immediate consequences, the blizzard could be a sign of climate change occurring right before our eyes. Contrary to common belief, climate change does not only signify an extreme rise in global temperatures but extreme shifts in weather patterns. California’s blizzard is just one example of a severe anomaly in the weather cycle. While the cause behind the weather phenomena cannot be directly attributed to climate change, some suspect there is a connection.

“What we’re experiencing right now can be a small glimpse of what our future holds. Ultimately, what’s happening in climate change, there is an increase in temperature,” Ms. Toogood said. “That will directly affect our weather patterns. We can’t specifically say this specific event that we’re currently having is due to climate action, but this can show us what the future is going to hold.”

Regardless of whether the irregular snow and rain are a symptom of climate change, they should be heeded as a warning of what we will see when global warming takes its toll. Fortunately, there is time to reverse the effects of climate change. The process starts first with slowing the rate of carbon emissions, and other heat-trapping gasses. On an individual level, Tologs can do our part through recycling, saving energy,  reducing water and food waste, and seeking out educational resources. One person’s efforts are not too small.

Garrity, who founded an environmental conservation organization called Surfers Helping Reduce Environmental Damage, knows the importance of reducing climate change’s effects. “As an individual and young teenager, Tologs can do their best to conserve energy in their homes. It is also great to use our voices to speak out against climate change and create awareness. This can look like joining environmental organizations and participating in programs that combat climate change,” Garrity said.

Additionally, while the rain and snow may create problems, Californians can find relief knowing that they come with a host of benefits. Among these benefits is a pause from the decade-long drought and recharging of the state reservoir and aquifers. 

According to Mark Pestrella, Los Angeles County Public Works Director, the stormwater will supply an estimated 816,000 people with sufficient water for a year. While the aftermath could see challenges, they are not unlike the ones California has experienced in the past and will prepare infrastructure for future weather phenomena.

That being said, the fact that many people immediately correlate the weather to climate change, even if the weather cannot be credited to it, is proof enough to take on fighting climate change now. More and more, we see anomalies that can be linked or speculated to be related to climate change and their harm to the environment, and that is why we need to act now.

“We need to act now to combat climate change because environmental degradation is already occurring, and many ecosystems are hanging on by a thread,” Michelle Houser ‘23 said. “Climate change is not gradual, especially as greenhouse gasses continue to spew into the atmosphere, effects of climate change will become more glaring than a few days of snow in LA”.