California Water Temperatures Put the West Coast on Ice

While the rest of America has spent the summer drenched in sweat, praying for cloud cover and low humidity, Southern California residents have been shivering.It’s been cold. And not just on land. If you’ve been in the water lately, you’ve most likely wrapped yourself in Novemberish amounts of neoprene (at least by Southern California standards) and ruminated about this cold-water conspiracy. According to Sam Iacobellis, a lifelong surfer and Specialist in Climatology at Scripps Institute of Oceanography, you’re not crazy.

“I went out there this weekend, and I’ll validate, it was cold.” says Iacobellis. “This is the coldest July since 1987 as far as water temperature [goes]. You have to go back to 1979, then 1965. It’s the coldest in the last twenty years, easily.”

According to Iacobellis, the average temperature at Scripps Pier this July was about 65 degrees – five degrees cooler than Scripps’ ten-year average of 70 degrees, and Iacobellis says that the coldwater phenomenon isn’t exclusive to Southern California.

“The water temperature is cold everywhere on the West Coast right now; it’s not just San Diego,” says Iacobellis. “It stretches from Baja almost to Alaska.”

So what could have precipitated the low temperatures?

“I think a lot of people want to jump and say La Nina, but I don’t think that’s it,” says Iacobellis. “If you look at 1987, it was also very cold here, and at that time we were having an El Nino. It’s hard to pinpoint it on one cause, but I think to start you’d say we had considerably more upwelling than normal this year.”

Iacobellis expects the chilly water temperatures to continue for at least two weeks, but is unable to make longer-range predictions.

“Water temperature usually does not change very quickly,” says Iacobellis. “It doesn’t warm up quickly, so you can say the next two weeks is probably going to be cool, too, but after that I’m not aware of a way to predict it too strongly. It’s hard to say what it’s going to be compared to what a normal winter is.”