Climate in Coachella / Impacts

The changing climate directly affects Coachella Valley.  The way we make energy heats up the atmosphere and causes real consequences to our quality of life. 

1. Climate impacts Coachella Valley’s population.

1.2 Coachella tourism will have to adjust.

1.3 Will there be enough water for everyone?

1.4 Damaging storms and flooding harm infrastructure.

2. Climate impacts Coachella-area biodiversity

2.1 Our beloved Joshua Trees are going away.

1. Climate impacts Coachella Valley’s population

1.1 Coachella’s tourism will have to adjust.

music festival fairground with people walking and talking, with a sunset and palm trees and a Ferris wheel

Tourism in the Coachella Valley is a $6,400,000,000 (6.4 billion) a year local economic engine, employing more than 50,000 people. Visitors from everywhere come to the area’s festivals, hot springs, resorts, and golf courses for the mild weather, but the weather is becoming less and less mild. Heat records are regularly broken in Palm Springs. The golf courses get quiet when its 110˚ out. Tourism drops off when its too hot outside.

The Coachella Music Festival happens in April, and Aprils in Coachella will be getting warmer. But the always-stay-indoors extreme heat (110˚s – 120˚s) will come in June, July, August, and September. Over time, the new “Super Summer” will push further and further into the Spring and Fall, eating into Coachella tourism’s shoulder-season.

Photo: The Coachella Music Festival happens each year in April when temps are still comfortable.

Local newspaper: DesertSun.com/story/news/environment/2018/08/27/climate-change-bringing-hotter-temperatures-californias-deserts/1088591002D

1.2 Is there enough water for Coachella Valley’s growing population?

Aerial view of the green-blue Salton Sea, which looks like a big pond in the vast desert, not like an actual sea. Photo.

Water for Coachella Valley’s 125,000 households comes from the aquifer (groundwater basin) beneath the whole length of the Coachella Valley – from Palm Springs to Coachella. Depletion of Coachellan groundwater has been a long-term crisis. Water levels have dropped by more than 100 feet since the 1950s underneath the cities of Palm Desert and Rancho Mirage. These places have 17 golf courses and a carpet of residential subdivisions.

Water managers replenish the aquifer by pumping faraway Colorado River water into the ground. But the Colorado River is subject to hotter temps and more evaporation, and is already strained by 76 million people in the Southwest U.S. who also depend on it for their water. Officials at the Coachella Valley Water District are concerned about how they’ll deliver a reliable water supply for the quickly growing local population. Coachella’s 450,000 people in 2020 is expected to grow to 1,200,000 (1.2 million) in 2050

Photo: The Salton Sea currently supports the $13 billion agriculture industry in Coachella’s neighboring Imperial Valley. This is where the United States gets a big portion of it’s Wintertime vegetables. The future of the region’s huge annual crop of cauliflower and tomatoes looks bleak as the Salton Sea evaporates into the warming atmosphere.

Water district site: CVwd.org/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=273

Local newspaper: https://www.desertsun.com/story/news/environment/ 2018/05/23/heavy-pumping-strains-palm-springs-area-water-supply/625052002/

1.3 Even biblical rainstorms bring no lasting relief from years of drought. But it does bring lots of damage.

Cars stopped on a highway because everything ahead of them has turned into a raging muddy river. Photo.

Disastrous deluges – one week of extreme rain – sandwiched between years of drought – will be more and more a part of Coachella’s torrid new climate. You’d think the rain could at least be captured for people to use, but no. The desert soils get so hard-baked during drought, that the rain quickly flows away and evaporates before it can seep down and refill the underground aquifer.

The Coachella Valley is a place that can be in the grips of a long, oven-like drought then suddenly have powerful floods destroy city infrastructure. Places in Coachella Valley had expensive flooding in February 2019, during a surprisingly voluminous Atmospheric River event.

a heavy duty truck bobbing up and down in flash flood while a rescue vehicle is arriving

It’s happening more often, and will be a common phenomenon in the coming decades: Very long periods of drought in the Coachella Valley – broken by blunt, extremely voluminous rainstorms.

STEM kids know this drought-deluge-drought cycle has to do with the lofty battle between an increasingly durable high pressure ridge keeping moisture trapped over the pacific Ocean, holding back an ever-strengthening Pineapple Express atmospheric river.

When the high-pressure ridge finally relents, the atmospheric river blasts California like a fire hose. These weather-pattern changes are driven by more carbon trapping more solar heat in the atmosphere. A warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor, so when it finally does rain, it comes as a series of ginormous storms.

Local newspaper: CVindependent.com/index.php/en-US/news/local-issues/item/5123-flood-follow-up-what-are-local-governments-doing-to-shore-up-infrastructure-affected-by-the-valentine-s-day-flood (Feb 21, 2019)

Local newspaper: DesertSun.com/story/weather/2019/02/14/palm-springs-area-road-closures-flooding-holy-fire-evacuations-still-in-place/2868558002/

2. Climate impacts Coachella-area biodiversity.

2.1 Our beloved Joshua Trees are going away.

A Joshua Tree shown side-by-side with an a colorful cartoon tree from a children's book.

Joshua Trees are an unusual form of life you think you might have seen in a Dr. Suess book. Along with the Giant Saguaro in Arizona (which is also facing extinction), Joshuas are an icon species of the American West. Each Joshua Tree (not really a tree species) can live up to 300 years. As a species, Joshua Trees have thrived for at least 2,500,000 years in the high desert above the Coachella Valley. Now, they will become extinct from local climate changes.

Higher temps and longer droughts are killing off the Joshua Moth, the insect that pollinates Joshua Trees. Older Joshua Trees die off, and are not being replaced by new ones. By the 2070s, Joshua Trees will be 80% extirpated (locally extinct) from Joshua Tree National Park. By the 2090s, they’ll all be gone. Like a suburban subdivision, Joshua Tree National Park will bear the name of something no longer there.

Science media: LiveScience.com/65953-climate-change-destroying-joshua-trees.html

Venerable magazine: NationalGeographic.com/environment/2018/10/joshua-trees-moths-threatened-climate-change-scientists-seek-solutions/

Photo art: u/exsplore on Reddit.com/r/JoshuaTree/comments/5wxrrv/a_picture_i_ edited_comparing_joshua_trees_to_dr/