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A tropical storm is flooding southern California amid record-breaking heat wave

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

California's weather has been extreme lately in just about every possible way. A record-setting heat wave fueled wildfires and threatened the power grid. Now the state contends with a tropical storm that hit the Baja peninsula yesterday. NPR's Nathan Rott is in Southern California and joins us. Nate, thanks so much for being with us.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Yeah, happy to be here. Good morning.

SIMON: And let's start with that storm system, please. It's been downgraded from a tropical storm. It's not unprecedented for that kind of system to hit California, but it's rare. What's the latest?

ROTT: Yeah, it has been an exceptional week of weather here, this tropical storm capping it off. You know, wind speeds of over 100 miles per hour have been recorded on some mountaintops outside of San Diego. Power utilities were reporting issues with downed power lines and trees. Some of those mountain communities east of San Diego also saw just incredible amounts of rain with some places getting more than 4 inches. And that's been causing some localized flash flooding.

SIMON: Despite all that rain, though, there are still wildfires, I gather.

ROTT: Yeah, they're stubborn. There were some concerns Friday that the winds from the storm could actually really fan the flames of the largest fire here in Southern California, causing emergency officials to expand evacuation orders around it. From what we've heard so far this morning, though, it looks like the storm actually ended up helping firefighters by delivering some much needed moisture to the area. But this, you know, is by no means over. And there's still a risk of new fires starting from those downed power lines I mentioned. And of course, there is the risk of debris flows from all of this rain over recently burnt areas.

SIMON: And, of course, all this follows, really just by a few hours, an utterly brutal heat wave.

ROTT: Yeah, that's right. It's been really hot. Parts of California have seen triple-digit temperatures pretty much all week. Records were broken not just here, but in other parts of the West, like Colorado and Utah. And remember, Scott, this is all happening on a landscape that's dealing with a climate-change-fueled megadrought, the worst that scientists say that the area has experienced in at least 1,200 years.

SIMON: What can you tell us about if or how these other events that we're talking about are also linked to climate change?

ROTT: We can absolutely attribute the increase in extreme wildfires in California and the broader West, you know, at least partially to human-caused climate change. For this tropical storm, for the heat wave, it's definitely harder to say. It's too soon to have any attribution science, which is where researchers basically look at a specific event and try to see if there are any linkages to human-caused warming. What we definitely can say, though, is that these types of extreme events are going to happen more frequently and more intensely the more greenhouse gas emissions we release into the atmosphere. A new study published this week by an international group of scientists really drove that point home. It showed that a failure to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial times, which is what the entire world is aiming for, could result in irreversible effects like the collapse of ice sheets and the death of the world's coral reefs. And Scott, bad news - the world has already warmed 1.1 degrees right now.

SIMON: Nathan Rott, a member of NPR's climate team, thanks so much, Nate.

ROTT: Yeah, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nathan Rott is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where he focuses on environment issues and the American West.
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.