Last week, a massive marine heat wave sitting roughly 60 miles off California’s coast oozed eastward, providing warm water fuel for Hurricane Hilary and its historic trek north. It was a worrisome development for researchers who have monitored this warm mass for nearly a decade — and who are watching a developing El Niño in the equatorial Pacific.
The California coast grew and prospered during a remarkable moment in history when the sea was at its tamest. But the mighty Pacific, unbeknownst to all, was nearing its final years of a calm but unusual cycle that had lulled dreaming settlers into a false sense of endless summer. Elsewhere, Miami has been drowning, Louisiana shrinking, North Carolina’s beaches disappearing like a time lapse with no ending. While other regions grappled with destructive waves and rising seas, the West Coast for decades was spared by a rare confluence of favorable winds and cooler water. This “sea level rise suppression,” as scientists call it, went largely undetected.