California’s Unexpected Atmospheric Rivers


Courtesy NASA Earth Observatory

Jasmine Smith

Beginning in mid-December until mid-January, California has been battered for the last three weeks with ceaseless storms and intense flooding, and in some areas, damage to properties.

Californians have been preparing for the rain as they see rain systems growing in the Pacific Ocean and dousing the state with atmospheric rivers and bomb cyclones.

A dry California both benefited and was blindsided by the rain. The last few weeks brought record-breaking precipitation with over 21 inches of rain in January alone, which is well above average. 

According to the Marin Water Watch, reservoirs are at full capacity. However, these positives are limited. Gusts reached 50 miles per hour which doesn’t go without the damaging consequences. In various parts of Marin County, landslides and mudslides were reported throughout and in one instance, closing the US-101 Northbound exit to Highway 1 due to high water and flooding by the nearby marsh. 

The National Weather Service (NWS) officials predicted that the series of systems would be “one of the most impactful systems.” Downed trees and power lines also came with the rough wind, prompting thousands of residents in California to be displaced because they don’t have electricity or were evacuated for landslide precautions. 

The sudden rain brought concern to flood-prone areas and rivers that would possibly reach flood level. Up north in Sonoma County, the Russian River reached, “24 feet, past the peak level it reached on New Year’s Day after the previous storm.” The flood level for the river’s section in Guerneville maxed out at 32 feet, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

While the rain may be positive to a dry California, the whole state came unprepared for the rapid rainfall.