Severe drought, high winds, catastrophic wildfires, rivers of rain, mudslides, bomb cyclones—national studies show California experienced the most disasters of any state in the last decade. Many of these extremes are caused by complex cascades of climate change-driven events, and each affects specific communities and people in ways unique to their locale and ability to adapt and rebound. This special KneeDeep Times investigative series explores fire, flood, heat, and other extremes in three dimensions—science, people, place—and reports on how researchers, activists, city planners, and community leaders throughout the state are building climate adaptation and resilience. 

Image: Vrinda Manglik.

Part 5: The Valleys

Beyond the cool, hilly cities and forests of the coast that dominate popular views of California sprawl the warm, wide, deeply-soiled valleys of the state’s inland empire. It is here among the walnut trees and lettuce leaves that the US grows more than half its produce. It is here, in smaller rural communities, that climate extremes – from heavier rains to hotter nights to deeper inequities – are felt most immediately. It is also here, in California’s valleys, that farmers, scientists and field workers are testing the limits of local resilience. Not everyone or everything will emerge unscathed.


Orchards Not so Chill with Warmer Winters

Climate change is coming for California’s famed bread basket. The Central Valley’s stone fruit and nut trees are set to suffer from less cool time in future winters, which would mean diminished yields. UC Davis researchers are predicting when that tipping point could come.  


The North Monterey County Climate Disaster that Wasn't

Life was already precarious for residents of Pajaro. The after effects of a 2023 levee breach and extreme flooding continue to erode what little buffer against the unexpected they had. Will a long-delayed project to prevent future floods, finally gaining ground, be enough?


Photographing a Valley in Transition

In California’s Central Valley, climate change’s consequences are on full display, from floods and wildfires to the return of a lost lake. These photos capture some of the cascading impacts on landscapes and local communities. 


A five-part series of stories in which KneeDeep Times explores the science behind climate extremes in California, and how people and places react and adapt.

Supported by the CO2 Foundation and Pulitzer Center.

Part 4: The Coast

With climate extremes now sending us bigger waves and wetter storms and warmer water, California’s coast is changing more than ever. Erosion rates will amp up with the current El Niño, scientists say. Models project that we could lose most of our beloved beaches by 2100 to the advancing ocean. Those living in small coastal towns are already feeling the brunt of the intensifying storms and learning how to rely on their community networks more than outside help. Others have found vocations and passtimes in the coastal zone, monitoring whales, experimenting with nature-based infrastructure, surfing the combers. 


Beach Loss Looms for California Coast

Even though Dan Hoover’s been surveying the same stretch of San Francisco’s Pacific coast for 15 years on his ATV, it never looks the same. In summer it’s wider and in winter bumpier and narrower. With El Niño this year, and sea level rising, the beach will erode more than ever. 


Work & Play in the Coastal Zone

KneeDeep profiles Arye Janoff and Bekah Lane. Janoff surfs and manages coastal dredging and restoration projects for the Army Corps; Lane monitors whales for The Marine Mammal Center. Climate change is their newest challenge.


Isolated Town Forges Resilience on Mendocino Coast

After experiencing wildfire, severe storms, flooding, numerous widespread power outages, and even a snowstorm in the last three years, Point Arena residents have decided to take climate preparedness into their own hands. 

Part 3: Heat

We can flee in the face of flood or fire, but heat creeps up on us. One minute it feels relaxing, then next dizzying. For some there is no switch to flick for the air conditioning, no escape from hot rooms or fields. If you live in a coastal city, your body is less accustomed to heat, making you more vulnerable. For indoor and outdoor workers doing the heavy lifting and picking, state protections are not coming fast enough. For small communities like Oasis in California’s inland valleys, there simply isn’t any shade anywhere to be found. It’s heat, not superstorms or mega-floods, that will kill the most of us, unless we are prepared.


Living with Climate Swings: Heat 101

The Bay Area’s mild weather is a liability in the face of all kinds of growing heat risks, from temperature swings to hotter nights—both in the flatlands and in the hills. But what exactly—geography, surfaces, weather, buildings—helps the heat linger?


Unpacking the Hold Up on Heat Protection for Indoor Workers

Warehouse workers, restaurant workers, and delivery drivers need heat protection. Businesses are pushing back. While California’s legislators have voiced concern, meaningful action has been slow to come—a planned Cal/OSHA vote to determine if protections will become law won’t happen until early next year.


Making Shade Where There Isn't Any

There are few trees, public spaces and places to escape the unrelenting heat in the dry, dusty expanse of California’s eastern Coachella Valley. A master plan for shade equity, funded by a climate resilience grant and advised by the community’s local experiences, aims to change that.

Part 2: Water

 As both dry seasons and wet seasons become more irregular, Californians have felt the changes in our body memory. Rural and urban communities are rethinking storm preparedness while confronting climate anxiety. Scientists and water managers are revisiting long accepted norms about rainfall, drought, and snowpack. And after years of drought, long-lost, much beloved Tulare Lake is back—along with questions about how to re-imagine the state’s interior landscape.


Why California’s Water Extremes Are Wilder than Ever — And What We Can Do About It

The atmospheric rivers kept coming and coming this winter, so many I lost count. Soon I wished the torrential rains would just stop. But what, exactly, should California do to manage wet years? New research, policies, and infrastructure may help.


Being Human in Big Weather

Seasonal extremes can be unnerving. Too much rain, too fast, is hard on both the human psyche and our aging drainage systems. As rural and urban communities absorb the shock of this winter’s storms, they are also preparing for more.


Return of a Lost Lake

A lost lake, dry for 40 years, reemerged after this winter’s rains. As the Sierra snowpack melts, Tulare Lake could spread, prompting water managers and locals to imagine letting the lake recover. What would that look like?

Part 1: Fire

A future with fire has settled itself into our very being as Californians. It’s happened enough times, we know the drill. Science is telling us how and when to evacuate, and where to expect mudslides and debris flows from burn scars. Neighbors at the edge of wildlands are sharing the burden of brush clearing and backyard fire safety. Schools in smoke zones are increasingly aware they may be the last healthy refuge for kids already struggling to breathe.


California Reeling: When Mudslides Follow Wildfires

Curtis Skene experienced loss and adaptation first hand after the deadly Montecito mudslide in 2018. The slide was triggered by a cascade of extreme events and climate change heightens the risk they will converge again.


My Neighborhood Wised Up to Fire

When the CZU fires forced us to flee the house in the Santa Cruz mountains we had only lived in for nine months we knew exactly two of our neighbors. We had no idea how fire would later bring us together.


Safer at School from Wildfire Smoke?

As they prepare for the fire seasons ahead, schools in Oakland, Sacramento and Santa Rosa are exploring different ways to make their facilities safe havens and resilience hubs for our youngest Californians, especially the most vulnerable.

More stories coming.



Managing Editor: Ariel Rubissow Okamoto
Web Story Design: Vanessa Lee & Tony Hale
Science advisors: Alexander Gershunov, Patrick Barnard, Richelle Tanner
Series supported by the CO2 Foundation.