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Is June gloom already over in Los Angeles?

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Sunnier days are on the way

May Gray in Santa Monica
Santa Monica Beach drenched in June gloom.
Photo by Mark Mainz/Getty Images

After what felt like a few false starts, it finally happened: June gloom arrived in all its understated glory. The last two weeks were delightfully dreary, if not altogether cold, the kind of spring mornings when you don a scarf and order your lattes hot. There was even a smattering of drizzle early last Thursday morning. Pure misty bliss.

It was so gloriously gloomy that it prompted LA Weekly’s Hillel Aron to write an ode to the gray, declaring it “LA’s most underappreciated weather event.”

But starting today, the local forecast presents a parade of sunny, 80-degree days stretching nearly into July. Is June gloom leaving us—just when it started to get good?

This isn’t the first time LA’s gotten shortchanged by nature’s air conditioner. Last year, El Niño sublimated our somber spring, delivering an early, sweltering summer filled with fires and despair instead. June gloom was a total no-show.

While we’ve had cooler temperatures and plenty of rain this year, those are not really the factors that determine our foggy fate, says Bill Patzert, oceanographer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who has been examining coastal temperatures and fog frequencies and serving as a perennial El Niño expert for over three decades.

June gloom is really about the contrast between the cool ocean and warming land, he says, and that contrast might be changing.

In a 2003 study, Patzert looked at a half century of LA’s gloomy Junes and observed a downward trend for foggy days. “Heavy fog has declined significantly since 1950, in part because of urban influences,” reads the study. “This also suggests future urban growth, global climate change, and continuing Pacific Ocean cycles may significantly affect future coastal weather in Southern California.”

We know that climate change is warming our oceans, causing more destructive storms like we saw during El Niño and killing the world’s largest living organism. By cooking our previously cool coastline past the point of fog-inducing temperatures, does that mean our beloved June gloom is ... doomed?

The answer is actually more complicated than that, says Patzert.

Even though 90 percent of the heat from climate change globally is absorbed by the ocean, those temperature changes are moderated by the ocean itself and are not significant enough to affect June gloom locally, says Patzert.

“The biggest temperature impact for megalopolises like LA is the urban heat island effect, which warms the land much more rapidly,” he says.

Downtown Los Angeles temperatures, for example, have increased by about 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1950, as the population of the region quadrupled during that same period.

So LA can look forward to a future of more June gloom because our heat island-affected land will warm far more rapidly than the ocean, making the fog machine in the Pacific more pronounced. Unless, of course, we can get our urban heat island problem under control, namely by planting more trees, says Patzert.

But there’s another reason we haven’t seen gloomier Junes lately, says Patzert. From the early 1950s to early 1980s, Southern California saw much more fog than it has from the 1990s to now, says Patzert. And one of the main reasons for that trend is that Southern California has cleaned up its air.

“If you look at snow, fog, and rain they all need tiny particles to form,” he says. “The more particulate matter in the air, the more rain and more fog you get.” So older Southern California residents might remember foggier springs, but the Junes of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s were much, much gloomier than they should have been, due to air pollution.

Of course, weather plays a role in all this as well, says Patzert, which is the main reason we’re kissing June gloom goodbye early this year. “A large dome of high pressure is building over the Southwest and West Coast,” he says. “June gloom will be obliterated.”

Besides, we shouldn’t place so much emphasis on June gloom anyway, says Patzert: May is statistically foggier. So don't be too concerned if your June is not gloomy. We should really be celebrating May gray.