Climate change threatens Coachella Valley, Palm Springs tourism, study says

Many studies have investigated how climate change will impact the ski industry during the winter season, but very few have analyzed how warm winter tourist destinations will be impacted.

The Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is one of the most famous music festivals in the world and is also amongst the most profitable, grossing an impressive $114.6 million in 2017, which set a record for the first recurring festival franchise to earn over $100 million. Coachella, Stagecoach and the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament are attractions that have drawn millions to the Coachella Valley over the years, but scientists warn that this could change as extreme heat becomes a dangerous reality.

The Coachella Valley is a desert region in southern California with virtually zero annual rainfall and an annual average temperature of 22.8°C, which makes it a desirable destination for those seeking year-round warmth. While this region hosts world-renowned events and is unlikely to lose popularity anytime soon, a study warns that rapidly rising temperatures are threatening the thriving tourism industry.

The study was published in the journal Climatic Change and found that in the Coachella Valley, the number of days above 29.4°C between November and April will increase up to 150 per cent by 2100. The researchers say that weather and climate are important factors that tourists consider, so they divided their findings of future impacts to the region’s tourism industry into three categories: winter snowbird season, outdoor tourist attractions, and annual festivals.

“Although tourism is a significant economic driver [in the Coachella Valley], little is known about how global warming will affect tourism at these locations,” the study states. Tourism is the primary source of revenue for the Coachella Valley, which is why the study’s projections are particularly foreboding.

coachella wikimedia commons credit: Jason Persse

Sunset over the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on April 21, 2012. Credit: Jason Persse/ Wikimedia Commons.


The researchers used global climate models to predict future visitation rates by calculating the probability of extreme heat occurring during local events and the tourist season. The climate models projected future daily maximum temperatures for two different scenarios, one where society continues emitting carbon business-as-usual, and the other where carbon emissions are significantly mitigated and reduced.

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Under the mitigation scenario, the daily maximum temperature in Indio, located 6 km from the site of the Coachella music festival, increased by 2.7°C from 31.4°C to 34.1°C at the end of the century. If emissions continue business-as-usual, the daily maximum temperature jumps by 4.1°C to 35.6°C.

Aerial shot of the Coachella Valley credit: Wikimedia Commons

An aerial shot of the Coachella Valley, California. Credit: Ilpo's Sojourn/ Wikimedia Commons

According to the U.S. National Weather Service, sustained exposure to temperatures above 40.6°C with relatively low humidity will “likely lead to heat-related illness.” The researchers say that the number of daily maximum temperatures above 40.6°C will increase by 61 days in 2100 if emissions are not curbed.


Winter tourism in the Coachella Valley is driven by the pleasant climate, which serves as an escape for many Americans and Canadians that typically live in climates with colder temperatures.

Snowbird season is when daily maximum temperatures are below 30°C, which is ideal for the travellers—generally the elderly—that are visiting from colder climates. Palm Springs, Palm Desert, and Rancho Mirage are well-known cities in Coachella Valley and were developed as wintertime resorts for wealthy visitors from Los Angeles, which is located 200 km southeast of Coachella Valley.

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Palm Canyon Drive in downtown Palm Springs, California. Credit: Patrick Pelster/ Wikimedia Commons

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While daily maximum temperatures range from 22-27°C in the winter, several days can exceed 45°C during the summer. Due to the dangers of these extremely hot temperatures, many businesses close or reduce their hours due to the lack of customers and several sectors of the economy, including employment and airport traffic, show seasonal fluctuations that correspond to the snowbird season.

The study states that the snowbird season typically lasts from the first week of November through the second week of April, which is approximately 5.5 months. However, the second could be shortened by 28-58 days in 2100, which is a decrease of 17-36 per cent depending on how steeply the region warms, which could have a dramatic impact on the local economy.

Between 24-27 per cent of adults in Coachella Valley are seasonal residents and 61-70 per cent stay in the region for at least five months, typically from November through April. The researchers say that this demographic has the highest risk of suffering from complications as the temperatures risk, since “extreme temperatures are known to have a particularly morbid impact on the elderly and people who are not acclimated to hot temperatures.”


The study used 40.6°C as a temperature threshold for evaluating climate change’s impact on the Coachella music festival, which occurs during the second and third weeks of April. The average daily maximum high for April 7-21 is 31°C, however, the risk of temperatures entering a territory that could cause serious and possibly life-threatening hazards during the music festival is becoming more likely.

The researchers say that their projections do not assume that future warming will affect attendance, so they evaluated how attendees could be impacted by an increased probability of an extreme heat event taking place during the festival. Without the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, the probability of exposure to extreme heat during the Coachella music festival could increase by up to six-fold by 2100.

“Organizers of the festival may need to take more measures in the future to accommodate visitors, such as by providing more cooling infrastructure and responding to heat-related incidents. Organizers of festivals may have to consider shifting their dates to lower the risk of extremely high daytime temperatures,” the researchers state.

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Sunset at Coachella in 2014. Credit: Alan Paone/ Wikimedia Commons

Another popular destination that will see staggering impacts is the Living Desert Zoo and Botanical Gardens. Future daily visitation for this destination in Palm Desert was projected for both scenarios since visitation exponentially declines when days are above 30°C. Typically, the highest visitation rates occur during the winter, while the lowest visitation rates occur when temperatures peak in the summer. By 2100, visitation is projected to decrease by 18 per cent, which equates to a loss of nearly $1.5 million.

The researchers say that their projections indicate a net loss of tourism instead of a redistribution across the seasons, because temperatures in the spring, summer and fall are already extremely hot and will continue to warm. They also note that warming temperatures increase competition as a greater number of cities will have climates suitable for warm destinations during the winter. However, the study emphasizes that future tourism in this part of California could be protected if carbon emissions are curbed.