Is climate change heating up the Super Bowl?


With Los Angeles gripped by a wintry heatwave, this year’s Super Bowl could be the warmest on record, leading some to question whether climate change has collided with the nation’s biggest sporting event.

Experts say it’s not that simple and warn of the difficulty of attributing a single meteorological event to a long-term trend like global warming.

But at the same time, they said, rising temperatures increase the likelihood that unusual heat events will occur.

“We’re basically shifting the baseline towards these warmer temperatures because of climate change,” said UCLA climate scientist Karen McKinnon. “All other things being equal, that makes an event like this more likely.”

The National Weather Service has issued a heat warning for the Los Angeles coast and the San Fernando and San Gabriel valleys, effective through 6 p.m. Sunday, said Rich Thompson of the National Weather Service. Thompson, who usually lives in Oxnard, currently works at Inglewood’s Joint Information Center as an event forecaster for Super Bowl LVI.

Such a weather warning is unusual – possibly unknown. The Oxnard Bureau of the Weather Service has never released one in February that dates back at least to 2006, Thompson said.

“I can pretty much guarantee that prior to 2006 in February we issued very, very, very little, if any, heat products,” he said. “So that’s definitely a rarity for us.”

Temperatures have peaked at 85 to 90 degrees, about 15 to 20 degrees above normal for this time of year, he said. Multiple one-day records were set Thursday, with Burbank’s Bob Hope Airport reaching 89 degrees, breaking the 1971 record of 87.

If the heat continues through Sunday as expected, the Super Bowl field temperature at kickoff could surpass the record 84 degrees reported at LA’s Coliseum on Jan. 14, 1973 — the current record holder for the hottest Super Bowl.

“We’re going to push that forward,” Thompson said. “We definitely have a chance to be the warmest on Sunday. It’s something we’ll be watching.”

The heat is a major concern for health officials, who stress people should stay hydrated and limit outdoor activities, he said.

“A lot of people are coming from out of town from colder climates, so they’re definitely not used to it,” he said.

There are a few factors that could affect whether the heat breaks the 1973 record, some of which are still taking shape.

This Super Bowl will be played later in the year than any in the past because the NFL added a regular season game, state climatologist Michael Anderson said.

“The further we get from the winter solstice and the longer the day gets, the more hours of sunshine we have,” he said. “So we have the possibility of that temperature getting warmer, just from a climate point of view.”

At the same time, the 1973 game started at 1:30 p.m., while this year’s kick-off is at 3:30 p.m. Generally, the highest temperatures occur around 1 or 2 p.m., but that can vary from day to day as the wind blows, Thompson said.

Another difference is the location. This year’s game takes place at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, which is closer to the coast than the Colosseum. Temperatures tend to be slightly cooler in coastal areas, but they’re difficult to predict because they’re dictated by the strength of sea breezes or offshore currents, Thompson said.

“Just a small difference in pressure gradients from one day to the next can cause sea breezes to arrive a few hours earlier and temperatures to be a few degrees cooler than we predicted, or the opposite,” he said. “It’s a kind of microclimate that has to do with the sea breezes and temperatures on the coastal plain. That can be quite a challenge.”

The heatwave is being caused by a high-pressure ridge building high up in the atmosphere, bringing sunny, cloudless skies, Thompson said. Added to this are the Santa Ana winds, coming in from the interior, gaining speed, warming and drying out as they move from higher to lower elevations and squeeze through narrow gorges and passes.

The condition isn’t uncommon for this time of year — Santa Anas tend to appear throughout the winter, Thompson said. What is anomalous is the duration of the event, he said.

“Normally we might have a day or two with this setup, but this is four to five straight days with this setup, which is pretty unusual at this time of year,” he said.

The strength and extent of the high-pressure system is also unusual, Anderson said, noting that it covers most of the western United States, almost to the border with Canada.

“In terms of size, it’s just massive,” he said.

It’s unclear whether climate change is affecting the high-pressure system itself, but it’s possible, Anderson said.

“In a warming world, the weather system has an opportunity to have more energy,” he said. “And how it uses that energy is strong storm systems and stronger high-pressure systems. The fact that it has more energy to work with means they can get stronger, bigger and more intense.”

To find out, scientists would have to run extensive computer simulations to determine whether natural variability allows such a large and powerful high-pressure system to persist for so long, and if not, what elements of anthropogenic warming might explain it. he said.

This is what climate scientists call the dynamic response to climate change — how atmospheric circulation and the weather system might be affected by rising temperatures — and it’s still being studied, McKinnon said.

“These larger questions of whether heat waves are becoming more intense due to a change in circulation are still up for debate at this time,” she said.

Better understood is the thermodynamic effect of climate change, she said. Increases in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases have very clearly led to increases in temperatures, which have risen on average by about half a degree per decade since 1945, she said.

“Our baseline of what the average temperature looks like in February is going up, and that’s clearly related to climate change,” she said. “But whether or not the likelihood of this specific circulation pattern we’re seeing causing the heatwave changing with climate change is still an area of ​​active research.” Is climate change heating up the Super Bowl?

Tom Vazquez

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