Climate in Los Angeles / Impacts

This page is about how the changing climate will impact Los Angeles over the coming decades.

1. Climate impacts the survivability of LA’s population.

1.1 LA’s water is drying up.

1.2 LA will have a difficult time sourcing non-local food.

2. Climate impacts Los Angeles-area biodiversity.

2.1 More wildfire will burn in Los Angeles.

2.2 What’s burning up in those fires?

1. Impacts on the survivability of LA’s population

The way we make energy is changing the Earth’s atmosphere, and damaging people’s chances of survival beyond the next century.

1.1 LA’s water is drying up.

Aerial view of Mono Lake at the foot of the Sierra Mountains. photo

In the western United States, the warming climate is causing longer, more severe droughts. Droughts cause less snowfall in the Sierra Mountains – LA’s biggest source of water. Less snowfall means less melting snow from the mountains to the rivers and reservoirs and to people. ​

Graphic showing one thing, leading to another thing, to another thing, and so on, and so on, and so on.

Because LA depends on mountain snowpack for most of its hydration, local water officials are concerned about how the City will sustain a reliable quantity of water for its millions of residents. ​ When snowpack dwindles, water officials have to tap more groundwater, which also declines from water use during drought. During California’s extended dry periods, little or no rain falls on the ground to trickle down to refill underground aquifers.​

In its Resiliency Plan, the City of Los Angeles says it will turn to stormwater  –  from rain.  But the Southern California climate is trending toward extra-long totally-rainless droughts. Extreme, drought-ending rainstorms provide relief only upon atmospheric whim – it can be many months or years between rainstorms sufficient enough to reliably hydrate LA’s millions of residents. 

Photo: Mono Lake Committee. Los Angeles gets much of its water supply from the streams that flow from the Sierra Mountains to Mono Lake. The streams are diverted into an aqueduct (water pipe) that brings the water 350 miles to Los Angeles and its millions of residents. You can see from the light colored rock and sand that the lake is becoming shallow. Less mountain snow, less lake.

State Govt Report: Los Angeles Summary Report. California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment (2018)  Hall, Alex; Berg, Neil; Reich, Katharine. (University of California, Los Angeles)  Publication number: SUM-CCCA4-2018-007

1.2 Los Angeles will have a difficult time sourcing non-local food.

Crops in California's Central Valley dried out and dead before harvest. photo

Exceptional droughts are ahead. People in Los Angeles (and most of the western United States) will very likely experience a multi-decade, exceptionally severe drought sometime after the 2040s.

People in Los Angeles get much of their food supply from what grows in the soil of California’s Central Valley. The Central Valley will be having much longer, much hotter droughts that kill the beneficial microbiome of the soil, making it expensive or impossible to grow food. By the 2070s, the Central Valley’s soil will not be able to consistently grow food. Likewise, other U.S. food-source regions like the U.S. Midwest will be disrupted by exceptional drought.

LA people must seriously consider where they will source their food in the coming decades. Will Los Angeles have enough floor and wall space for indoor agriculture? For lack of space, cows don’t seem to be part of LA’s future. Will locally-grown food be enough to feed millions of Angelinos?

Photo: Reuters / John Sommers II.

State Govt Report: Los Angeles Summary Report. California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment (2018)  Hall, Alex; Berg, Neil; Reich, Katharine. (University of California, Los Angeles)  Publication number: SUM-CCCA4-2018-007

2. Climate Impacts on LA-area biodiversity

2.1 More wildfire will burn in Los Angeles.

More wildfires will scorch the LA region, then, a few decades from now, there will be a big decrease. Southern California will have a larger number of wildfires and up to 75% more burned area by the 2040s, 50s, and 60s from warming and drying caused by the currently growing pace of carbon emissions. 

By the 2070s, 80s and 90s, the already burnt areas of previous fires and the still warming temps will reduce the overall amount of vegetation necessary to fuel wildfires. Much of what was burnable land will essentially be “desertified,” and not prone to wildfire. Or supportive of the current wildlife.

Photo: Stuart Palley. Whole neighborhoods burned in a San Fernando Valley firestorm during the hot, tinder dry Fall of 2019.

State Govt Report: Los Angeles Summary Report. California’s Fourth Climate Change Assessment (2018)  Hall, Alex; Berg, Neil; Reich, Katharine. (University of California, Los Angeles)  Publication number: SUM-CCCA4-2018-007

2.2 Fire impact: What’s burning up in those big fires?

Brushland and forests are the natural world’s habitat equivalent of cities. What would happen if all of Los Angeles were suddenly engulfed by a raging fire? What lifeforms in the city would be consumed by the flames? People, birds, dogs, cats, rodents – to list some of the vertebrates. When miles and miles of Southern California forest and brushland combust, what lifeforms are incinerated? This is an article stub for further reporting.