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Explainer-What California’s atmospheric rivers means for water, snowpack levels

2024.02.05 05:45


© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A neighborhood resident walks alongside a pier as rain storms often known as “atmospheric river” slam Northern California, in Santa Cruz, California, U.S., March 28, 2023. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

(Reuters) -A second atmospheric river storm, or Pineapple Express climate system, has hit California and is predicted to proceed by way of Tuesday, bringing heavy rain that would trigger flash floods and mudslides.

WHAT IS AN ATMOSPHERIC RIVER?

An atmospheric river is huge airborne present of dense moisture carried aloft for tons of of miles from the Pacific and funneled over land to fall as bouts of heavy rain and snow.

It can seem as a path of wispy clouds that may stretch for tons of of miles.

Some atmospheric rivers are weak climate methods that carry helpful rain or snows that feed water provides and are a vital ingredient to the worldwide water cycle.

WHAT ARE THE CURRENT WATER, SNOWPACK LEVELS IN CALIFORNIA?

The heavy rains and snow are welcome in California, which has skilled beneath common precipitation because the starting of October. The state has acquired 9.81 inches of precipitation over that point, about 82% of its historic common, in keeping with the California Water Watch.

Major reservoir levels in California are 116% above their common levels, however snowpack throughout the state is just 32% of its common, in keeping with California Water Watch. More particularly, snowpack within the Sierra Nevada mountains is effectively beneath common, whereas to the north round Mount Shasta it’s nearer to common.

Reservoirs and melting snowpack assist offset arid circumstances throughout drier months.

HOW COMMON ARE ATMOSPHERIC RIVERS?

These “rivers in the sky” are comparatively frequent, with about 11 current on Earth at any time, in keeping with NASA.

Most atmospheric rivers are weak and don’t trigger injury. In reality, they’ll present a lot wanted rain or snow.

HOW BIG ARE THEY AND CAN THEY BE DANGEROUS?

Atmospheric rivers can carry as much as 15 instances the quantity of the Mississippi River, in keeping with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The atmospheric river is predicted to douse California on Wednesday and Thursday with heavy rains of as much as 6 inches (15 cm) that would trigger flash flooding and wash out roadways. Wind gusts could take down bushes and powerlines, inflicting energy outages, the National Weather Service mentioned.

Some high-elevation areas may see heavy snows of as much as 3 toes (91 cm) which will trigger harmful whiteout circumstances on roadways, the service mentioned.

Last winter, a collection of a dozen atmospheric rivers drenched the state, inflicting city flooding, landslides and street closures. Some 21 folks had been killed within the storms that induced, in keeping with researchers on the Stanford University, greater than $3 billion in losses.

The bountiful rainfall triggered appreciable progress in grasses and scrub and contributed to a much less potent wildfire season in 2023 than in earlier latest years. Heavy rains, nonetheless, can create risks round burn scars from earlier wildfires. The denuded land turns into inclined to mudslides.

In 2019, an atmospheric river nicknamed the “Pineapple Express” hit California. The water vapor from close to Hawaii introduced rain and triggered mudslides that compelled motorists to swim for their lives and despatched houses sliding downhill.

WHAT IMPACT WILL CLIMATE CHANGE HAVE ON THEM?

Atmospheric rivers that drenched California and flooded British Columbia in recent times will change into bigger — and presumably extra harmful — due to local weather change, scientists have mentioned.

They can even change into extra frequent and extra more likely to arrive as a part of collection, inflicting as much as 4 instances extra financial injury than they’d have individually, a research in Science Advances mentioned.

IS CALIFORNIA FREE OF DROUGHT?

The U.S. Drought Monitor, an initiative of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, reveals small parts of northern and southeastern California are presently “abnormally” dry. From the start of 2020 till 2023, the state skilled intervals of “extreme” and “exceptional” drought, in keeping with the monitor.

Experts warn that California and the West haven’t escaped longer-term circumstances that, in keeping with a research by Nature Climate Change, created the area’s driest 22-year span in 12 centuries through the interval of 2000 to 2021.

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