The Central Valley is particularly ill-equipped to deal with the impacts of climate change, according to a new Pacific Institute report.
While the majority of residents vulnerable to global warming live in pockets of densely populated costal areas, Central California is dominated by large regions unprepared for the health and economic impacts of rising temperatures, the report states.
Many communities in the Valley may not have the resources to support their residents who will likely suffer from climate change, said Heather Cooley, co-author of the study.
"It's important to realize that not everyone will be impacted the same," she said. "As we start making plans at the community and state level, we need to start thinking about those who are most vulnerable."
According to the report, 70 percent of Merced County residents are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. That's second only to Imperial County, where that number is 90 percent.
In Fresno and Tulare counties, over half of all residents do not have the resources to adequately deal with the effects of a warming planet, according to the report.
The study looked at a number of social-risk factors specifically related to the impacts of climate change, including air conditioner ownership, childhood obesity, percentage of tree cover, income levels and numbers of workers in outdoor occupations.
From Merced to Fresno, an abundance of outdoor workers consistently topped the factors in climate change vulnerability.
"Agricultural workers are at high risk of heat- related illness because they often work long hours in the sun and, in some cases, may not have access to adequate health care," Cooley said.
Extreme heat is of particular concern to scientists studying climate change in the Valley, as well as flooding from altered weather patterns, potentially adverse impacts on air quality and shrinking levels of mountain snowpack.
A warmer climate means more precipitation will fall as rain rather than snow, said Roger Bales, a UC Merced professor studying climate change. "The rain runs off in the winter and that's not the time when you need the most water for crops."
According to the report, by mid-century Merced County will experience an average of 29 to 32 days a year where the temperature is 102 degrees or higher -- conditions that currently only occur about eight days a year on average.
Reporter Joshua Emerson Smith can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or email@example.com.