What are atmospheric rivers and will climate change worsen them in California?

California is currently experiencing another series of atmospheric rivers, causing widespread flooding and prompting evacuation orders for millions of people. The upcoming twelfth river is expected to bring even more precipitation during the week of March 19.

Most of Northern California and the entire coast may get 2-6 inches of rain next week. State Climatologist Michael Anderson said that two storms within seven days would bring significant impacts as water from the first storm is still in the system when the second storm arrives.

President Joe Biden and Gov. Gavin Newsom declared an emergency in the county. Recent storms have replenished California’s largest waterways and storage facilities. Lake Oroville is 75% full, equivalent to 116% of its historical average storage.

Several other reservoirs, including Lake Sonoma, San Luis Reservoir, and Lake Don Pedro have exceeded their historical average storage levels.

Experts from Northeastern University previously discussed the cause of these weather phenomena in a January article, explaining how they transport water vapour from the tropics to the Western US, where it condenses into rainfall and snow.

California is currently experiencing a series of atmospheric rivers, which are essentially channels of moisture that transport water vapour from the tropics to the Western United States.

The Science behind Atmospheric Rivers

Atmospheric rivers are narrow channels of moisture that can transport large amounts of water vapour from the tropics to the Western United States. These weather events are caused by a combination of weather factors, including low-pressure systems, temperature differentials, and the position of the jet stream.

Low-pressure systems play a key role in the formation of atmospheric rivers. These systems are areas of lower atmospheric pressure that are associated with stormy weather. When a low-pressure system forms over the Pacific Ocean, it can create a pathway for water vapour to flow from the tropics to the West Coast.

Temperature differentials also play a role in the formation of atmospheric rivers. When warm air from the tropics meets cooler air over the Pacific Ocean, the warm air can rise and cool, causing the water vapor to condense into clouds. As the clouds continue to move over the West Coast, they can produce heavy precipitation.

The Impacts of Atmospheric Rivers

While atmospheric rivers can provide much-needed water for California and other western states, they can also cause significant hazards. Heavy precipitation can lead to flooding, landslides, and other hazards that can disrupt transportation, damage infrastructure, and put people’s lives at risk.

Atmospheric rivers can provide much-needed water for California and other western states. During times of drought, atmospheric rivers can help replenish water supplies and support agriculture and other industries that depend on water.

Additionally, snow and ice that are produced from atmospheric rivers can contribute to the mountain snowpack, which is an important source of water for the region.

Heavy precipitation can lead to flooding, landslides, and other hazards that can disrupt transportation, damage infrastructure, and put people’s lives at risk.

For example, in 2017, an atmospheric river caused major flooding in Northern California that led to evacuations, road closures, and property damage.

The impacts of atmospheric rivers can be especially severe in areas that are not prepared for heavy precipitation events.

This is why it is important for communities in the western United States to have effective flood control measures, early warning systems, and emergency response plans in place to mitigate the impacts of atmospheric rivers.

The Role of Climate Change

The intensity and frequency of atmospheric rivers are influenced by a number of factors, including climate change and global warming.

As the climate warms, the amount of moisture in the atmosphere is increasing, which can lead to more intense precipitation events.

Additionally, changes in ocean temperatures can influence the strength and position of the jet stream, which can affect the likelihood and intensity of atmospheric rivers.

There is growing evidence to suggest that climate change may be affecting the intensity and frequency of atmospheric rivers in the Western United States.

As the climate warms, the atmosphere can hold more moisture, which can lead to more intense precipitation events when the conditions are right.

Some studies have suggested that climate change may be increasing the likelihood of atmospheric rivers, as well as their intensity and duration.

In addition, climate change can also affect the positioning of the jet stream, which is a key factor.

As the climate warms, there is evidence to suggest that the jet stream may be shifting towards the poles, which could impact the formation and trajectory of atmospheric rivers.

The potential impacts of climate change on this could have significant implications for the Western United States.

More intense and frequent atmospheric rivers could lead to more frequent and severe flooding and landslides, as well as increased risks to infrastructure, property, and public safety.

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