Heat waves, wildfires — and a hurricane? One of California’s weirdest weather weeks ever
Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, Sept. 9. I’m Hayley Smith, a breaking news reporter, writing from Los Angeles, where it is somehow hot, dry and drizzling all at the same time.
That’s right. A week that started with a record-smashing heat wave amid an unprecedented drought is ending with multiple explosive wildfires and the incoming threat of a hurricane. Experts are saying it’s one of the state’s weirdest weather weeks in recent memory.
About that hurricane: The National Weather Service is tracking a Category 1 storm off the Baja Peninsula that forecasters say could bring heavy rain to parts of Southern California on Friday and into the weekend. Hurricane Kay, which may weaken into a tropical storm, is not expected to make direct landfall in the state but could deliver gale-force winds, strong surf and several inches of rain from San Diego to Los Angeles before shifting west. Remnants of the storm, including cloud cover and winds, could reach the Bay Area.
“We don’t get a whole lot of tropical systems in Southern California,” said Lisa Phillips, a meteorologist with the weather service in Oxnard. “We have the California current — which is very cold water that comes from the north — and hurricanes and tropical storm systems like to follow where the water is the warmest.”
When asked to recall the last such system in the area, Phillips said there was little by way of comparison.
“Based on how strong it will be, and how close it will be to us, it’s uncommon,” she said. “Nothing has followed this track in the past.”
But whereas a hurricane is notable in and of itself (I should know, I’m from Florida), it’s only one of several weather challenges the state has faced this week. The infernal heat wave that has been broiling California set several all-time temperature records — including 116 degrees in Sacramento on Tuesday, the highest temperature ever recorded in the area. In Southern California, the heat wave was also accompanied by unusual “Miami-like humidity,” UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain wrote in his blog, Weather West.
Soaring temperatures and persistent drought conditions also helped fuel a spate of new wildfires in California, including the Mill fire in Siskiyou County and the Fairview fire in Riverside County, which generated its own fire tornadoes. Several others fires ignited this week, including the Mosquito fire in Placer and El Dorado counties, which has already destroyed several structures and is threatening critical infrastructure.
Officials say more fires are possible as the incoming system threatens to bring lightning strikes ahead of the rain. Oh, and flash floods could also occur once the rain arrives, according to the weather service.
As Swain writes in his blog, this was “perhaps the singularly most unusual and extreme weather week in quite some time in California — and that is saying something.”
And now, here’s what’s happening across California:
California’s heat wave is expected to break soon, but officials fear its scorching temperatures have already set the stage for wildfire season to get worse. The extreme heat has created a “flash drying effect” that has sapped moisture from trees, grasses and other vegetation, effectively priming the landscape for more burning. Los Angeles Times
The federal government has removed the word “squaw” from names of places on federal lands, including 84 sites in California. The term has long been used as a slur against Native American women. Some of the renamed places include Washeshu Creek, formerly known as Squaw Creek, and Olympic Valley, which was the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics and formerly known as Squaw Valley. Sacramento Bee
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The growth of the homeless population in Los Angeles County slowed over the last two years. The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s annual count found that the region’s homeless population grew by 4.1% from 2020 to 2022, a decrease from the 2018 to 2020 period, when it grew by 25%. Officials attributed the deceleration to policies enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic, including unemployment relief, rent and eviction moratoriums, and boosts to the region’s shelter capacity. Los Angeles Times
An internal report identified key vulnerabilities in the data systems of the Los Angeles Unified School District two years before hackers launched the major cyberattack that disrupted operations this week. The private data of more than 400,000 students could be at risk from the massive cyberattack, which was identified late Saturday night and briefly disabled systems across the school district. A redacted version of the internal report, obtained by The Times, found that numerous “high-risk” areas were identified as far back as 2020. Los Angeles Times
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POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT
Queen Elizabeth has died at 96. The death of Britain’s monarch rippled across the globe and marked the end of her remarkable 70-year reign. The queen’s rule “saw 14 prime ministers come and go, from Winston Churchill to Boris Johnson, and witnessed the transformation of postwar Britain from an outsize imperial power into a modest European nation,” The Times’ Henry Chu writes. “Her reign was so long that most of Britain’s 68 million people have known no other sovereign.” Los Angeles Times
Californians will soon be asked to weigh in on electoral contests that will shape the future of Los Angeles, the state and the nation. This guide will take you through what you need to know about the upcoming midterm elections — from how to register to what’s on the ballot. Los Angeles Times
CRIME, COURTS AND POLICING
A federal appeals court has reversed its own decision that California’s ban on semiautomatic rifle sales to adults younger than 21 is unconstitutional. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals this week sent the case back to a lower court to be retried based on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that found that limits against carrying firearms are unconstitutional, and that many other restrictions on firearms that aren’t deeply rooted in American history would likewise violate the 2nd Amendment. Los Angeles Times
An Alameda County sheriff’s deputy wanted in connection with a double homicide was taken into custody this week after surrendering to authorities. Deputy Devin Williams Jr. was arrested on suspicion of murder in what police have described as an “execution style” shooting of a married man and woman in their home. San Francisco Chronicle
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HEALTH AND THE ENVIRONMENT
Kaiser mental health clinicians have been out on strike for weeks now in Northern California due to what they say are exhausting working conditions and long delays in care for their patients. Yet despite Californians’ rising demand for mental health care tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, inflation, climate change and other stressors, officials say providers remain in short supply. Cal Matters
The Texas company operating the pipeline that caused last year’s massive oil spill off Huntington Beach agreed to plead no contest to state environmental charges and pay nearly $5 million in fines and penalties. California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta said the deal reached with Amplify Energy Corp. and its subsidiaries could be the largest state misdemeanor criminal fine in Orange County history. Los Angeles Times
California squirrels are “splooting” in response to the extreme heat, and it’s freaking people out. Experts say the strange behavior, which includes stretching on the ground and remaining completely motionless, helps squirrels dump heat from their bodies and cool down. Wildlife hotlines have been receiving tons of phone calls from concerned residents, but experts say it’s perfectly normal behavior. SFGATE
A new generation of ultra-exclusive clubs are popping up all over Los Angeles, and people are paying thousands to get in. The secretive hideaways promise full “day-to-night” lifestyle experiences that combine co-working and socializing under one roof. Some have elite waiting lists that stretch months, if not years, and most have steep price tags that can range from $2,500 annually to $300,000 to join. Los Angeles Times
Most Hollywood assistants still make less than $50,000 a year. A new survey by the grassroots group #PayUpHollywood found that more than 91% of current and former assistants working at studios, talent agencies and development companies reported making less than $50,000 in 2021, up from about 79% in 2020. Los Angeles Times
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Los Angeles: partly sunny, 100. San Diego: partly sunny, 94. San Francisco: sunny, 74. San Jose: Fresno: sunny, 93. Sacramento: sunny, 110.
Today’s California memory is from Cole Harvey.
It was the end of summer 2017 and I was returning home to Hermosa Beach. A few days earlier, I had rented a big SUV, driven to my sister’s house. My brother-in-law, nephew and sister packed up the big SUV and headed to eastern Oregon to watch the total solar eclipse. The trip was over, I was alone, heading west on the 105 to return the big SUV. Planes were landing and taking off from LAX. The sun was sinking into the Pacific leading into a grand sunset. “Major Tom (Coming Home)” was playing. As Peter Schilling repeated the end chorus, I knew that I was in the right place, and I was home.
If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)
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