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How Could California’s Drought End? Through Something Called ‘Atmospheric Rivers’

January 20, 2015 by Brian Champlin

So what the hell is an ‘atmospheric river’ anyway? Well it might just be the key to ending California’s current drought. That is, if mother nature decides it’s time to send a few our way.

First, though, what is it exactly that we’re talking about?

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Well here’s what research from the American Meteorological Society tells us, quoting a report from the L.A. Times:

“Powerful storms known as atmospheric rivers, ribbons of water vapor that extend for thousands of miles, pulling moisture from the tropics and delivering it to the West Coast, have broken 40% of California droughts since 1950, recent research shows.”

The nature of these events has only recently been discovered, studied since the 1990s using a new type of satellite data to collect information and assess weather patterns. In some ways, to a laymen like me it seems like a fancy way of saying ‘more rainfall’ but the sheer quantity of rain associated with the phenomenon is actually kind of cool.

According to the research storms associated with atmospheric rivers can carry up to 15 times as much water as the Mississippi River in a single event (woah… that’s not a small amount). In theory, we would need about five of these types of atmospheric events per year to adequately replenish California’s water reserves.

Los Angeles Rain Storm Brewing

Credit: Neil Kremer via flickr

I guess that’s the good news… in only a few isolated storms we could bounce back from the vicious drought we’ve been suffering from. Last year we had one atmospheric river break through in February, but that alone wasn’t enough to counteract that established effects of drought.

And that’s the bad news. If we don’t get these types of weather events, as with 2014, drought intensifies and can create high pressure ridges that block off additional rain storms.

Moreover, because of the intensity of these storms, there are major downsides to their occurrence. Large scale storms cause flooding, mudslides (like the one that killed 10 people in Venture 10 years ago), and wreak general havoc in our area.

So, in a nutshell, we definitely need to be pulling for a few more atmospheric rivers to be sent our way… just not too many.

[h/t: L.A. Times]

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