WeatherWhys Blog

Heat finally comes to Bakersfield

Heat finally comes to Bakersfield

After a cool and wet spring, the first 100 degree temperatures have arrived in Bakersfield and the San Joaquin Valley.

It was Sunday afternoon June 27, 2010 at 4:25 PM when the mercury hit 100 for the first time at Meadows Field. Officially, we’ve hit triple digits. This annual event has happened without fail every year since 1893 when temperature records were first established. I surmise hot summers in Bakersfield have included 100-degree temperatures long before 1893.

However, it is possible that summers in the central valley may not have always been that hot. Believe it or not there may well have been years in which the highest temperature never exceeded 100, or even 90 degrees. The Little Ice Age was in full form from the middle 14th century through early parts of the 19th century. In 1816 strangely cold weather came to much of America in what became known as the "year without a summer." It was the middle of a period in the sun’s solar cycle characterized by very few sunspots, called the Dalton Minimum. From the late 1700s through the 1820s there was an extreme minimum of solar activity and the entire world was colder than what is normal today. This was similar to the earlier Maunder Minimum from the mid 1600s through 1715 in which the northern hemisphere was plagued by very cold weather. Both of these minima in solar activity were part of the Little Ice Age encompassing everything from the Black Death in Europe (c. 1348-1350) to George Washington’s frigid crossing of the Delaware (c.1776). But in addition to all this, 1815 was the year of a catastrophic volcanic eruption in present day Indonesia on the island of Sumbawa. Mount Tambora exploded throwing an immense ash cloud into the stratosphere and covering the Northern Hemisphere. This routinely blocked much of the sunlight. New England experienced freezes in July and many people starved due to failed crops.

Although it is impossible to know for sure, since no reliable temperature measurements are recorded in California prior to the mid 1800s, I would guess that what became Bakersfield and the south valley endured bitterly cold winters and July afternoons with temperatures in the 60s and 70s during 1815 and 1816. Likely, there were years without triple digits back then. And, of course, native peoples experienced equally cold temperatures in the 1600s and early 1700s when European settlers first arrived on the other side of the continent.

Back to today, 2010 will see a hot summer with typically blazing temperatures. June 27th is by no means the latest first occurrence of 100. That was only 12 years ago in the El Nino enhanced 1998, when we finally saw 100 on July 16th. It is important to note that 1998 was both the end of our wettest year on record AND a very hot summer with 28 triple digit days and 5 heat waves. It got up to 110 that year. Even though the first half of summer was cool, the second half made up for lost time. August and September both were hotter than average with an above normal number of triple digit days.

The remainder of summer, only a week old, is forecast to be hotter than normal. But a merciful trough of low pressure is expected to dive southeast from the Gulf of Alaska the middle part of this work week bringing relief from our hot weather, at least temporarily. It will be a reprieve of the retreating El Nino weather pattern, now flickering out. Get ready! As the winner of this years Hot Times Contest is announced, more very hot Bakersfield weather is just around the corner.