Should We Talk About the Weather? (Apologies to R.E.M.)

December 18, 2013 § Leave a comment

Temperatures in Hollywood on December 1, 2013

Temperatures in Hollywood on December 1, 2013


On December 1st, temperatures in Los Angeles hit 80 degrees, exceeding the unseasonably warm forecast of 75. As my neighbors put up Christmas decorations, I went swimming–outdoors. Later on Facebook, an East Coast friend wrote, “So, not really December for you.” But of course it was, along with the so-called cold snap that followed, when nighttime temperatures dipped into the 30s. A week after my swim, I was happily wearing a jacket, scarf and, occasionally, gloves. This week the temperatures went up again, reaching a high of 85 degrees on December 16th before dropping into the more normal 60s and low 70s. Unsurprisingly, I’ve come down with a terrible cold.

Whenever coastal California gets a frost, there’s an explosion of commentary from colder places, to the effect of “You sissies! It’s ten below here!” This misses the point, which is that all of us expect temperatures normal for our location, not some other place. When I lived in the Midwest in the seventies, winters were brutally long and cold, bringing ice, freezing rain, grey skies and occasional snow. At the same time, Los Angeles was known for the steady mildness of its climate–a marvel approximating two springs, a long, warm, dry season, and a brief cool, wet one. As recently as the 90s, it was common for Angelenos to have neither heat nor air conditioning in their houses–we could get by without them. But now that the climate is more seasonal, it’s rare to meet anyone who can live without heat in the winter, and increasing numbers rely on air conditioning during the summer heat. During the nearly twenty-five years I’ve lived in Los Angeles, the climate has become far more extreme. December has provided a stark contrast to the normal temperatures of the LA Basin, which historically have ranged from 68 degrees during the day to 48 degrees at night, with almost no variation.

So whether we’re sunbathing or digging out a pair of gloves, neither is normal for December. In a place that used to be known for its lack of weather, I check the temperature every morning.

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