The Heatwave Is Changing the Climate

Even during record heat, surprisingly few people go to L.A. cooling centers. Why? Well, despite all the talk about the heatwave’s effects on California’s infrastructure, many Californians don’t need to go anywhere.

California has fewer than 20,000 air-conditioning units in service today, according to the Los Angeles Regional Transportation Commission. A typical Los Angeles home uses about 8,000 hours a year, or $3,000 in power, every year.

The most popular time for those units to be turned on is between October and February, when the mercury plummets below 50 degrees, when people aren’t expected to go outside and drive their cars. Residents of San Antonio, Texas, have to rely on their air-conditioners most of the year. A study by researchers at the University of Texas in Austin suggests that the heatwave is the most important factor in lowering Texas temperatures in the past 200 years.

In L.A., the heatwave isn’t just felt in the streets; it’s had a serious impact on traffic and air pollution as well. The city’s Air Quality Control Board raised its ozone reading from 9.5 to 15 in the course of a month in 2003, and set an overall annual limit of 52.

With the heatwave over, the agency has lowered the ozone limit to 25 and set a new standard of 30 in the state. But the agency is waiting for the new, cooler weather to pass to go back to its old limits. At least two people have died in the city from respiratory diseases associated with ozone pollution.

So far, the state has been pretty good at keeping the air quality within the limits set by the federal government. But scientists aren’t so sure.

The L.A. Times reported this summer that the state’s environmental monitoring stations show ozone levels as high as 18

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