Atmospheric rivers are storms which act like rivers in the sky, dumping massive amounts of rain which can cause flooding and mudslides
It has been a stormy beginning to the New Year for California with severe storms slamming the state this week. On January 5, it was hit by an ‘atmospheric river’ which led to two deaths and 163,000 people were left without power.
Atmospheric rivers are storms which act like rivers in the sky, dumping massive amounts of rain which can cause flooding and mudslides. Named by researchers in the 1990s, they can carry up to 15 times the volume of the Mississippi river.
Although they occur globally, they are especially significant on the US west coast, where they bring 30 per cent to 50 per cent of its annual precipitation.
This the third atmospheric river to pummel the drought-stricken state, spurred by a bomb cyclone which brought moisture from the Pacific. Wind speeds reached 100 miles per hour in some parts of the state as infrastructure suffered huge damage, closing highways in several areas.
Waves reached up to 60 feet at Point Reyes in Northern California. The US west coast has been reeling from a wave of destruction as the New Year’s Eve weekend gave San Francisco its second wettest day on record.
Bodies are still being recovered in Sacramento which has reported four deaths till now. Waves that were forecast to top 25 ft (7.6 metres) battered the Santa Cruz county coastline south of San Francisco, crashing into homes at the mouth of Soquel Creek in Capitola.
More than 70 flights were canceled and so many sandbags were distributed among citizens that supplies temporarily ran out.
According to climate scientist Colin McCarthy, “Over 20 trillion gallons of water are expected to fall across California over the next 2 weeks. That’s enough water to cover a flat surface the size of California in over half a foot of water.”
Although the wet season might help refill reservoirs in the drought stricken state, a series of deluges might not help too much as the water runs off the ground instead of soaking in, also weakening roots of ancient trees.
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