A UC Riverside study released Tuesday found rising temperatures associated with climate change threatens to upend tourism in the Coachella Valley, the region’s dominant industry.
The number of days above 85 degrees between November and April is projected to increase by up to 150% by the end of the century, the study found. Those months are when thousands of people dubbed “snowbirds” flock to the area annually to escape freezing winters from areas like the East Coast and Canada.
Places like the Coachella Valley are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change because snowbird season cannot be shifted to cooler times of year, since those don’t exist, according to Francesca Hopkins, an assistant professor of climate change and sustainability at UC Riverside.
“Though other studies have focused on the impact that climate change will have on cold winter destinations popular for sports like skiing, this is one of the first to focus on a warm winter destination, and its impact on such a specific region,” Hopkins said.
In addition to the winter weather, researchers analyzed two key components of the local tourism industry; the number of visitors to The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Palm Desert and the likelihood of extreme heat at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
Researchers found that the zoo stands to lose up to $1.44 million annually with 18% fewer visitors at the end of the century, and also discovered that the probability of attendee exposure to extreme heat at the music festival — if it continues to be held in April — could increase sixfold by the end of the century if climate change trends continue.
If climate change shortens the window of time normally reserved for tourism in the Coachella Valley, regional employment will be impacted, according to researchers.
Many businesses in the Coachella Valley already close due to a lackluster customer base during the hot summer months, when daytime high temperatures average up to 108 degrees in July and August. Employment follows these patterns, with regional employment declining by 7.2% between April and October in 2017, researchers said.
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