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California’s Atmospheric Rivers Are Getting Worse


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This story originally appeared on Grist and is part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

California is no stranger to big swings between wet and dry weather. The “atmospheric river” storms that have battered the state this winter are part of a system that has long interrupted periods of drought with huge bursts of rain—indeed, they provide somewhere between 30 and 50 percent of all precipitation on the West Coast. 

The parade of storms that has struck California in recent months has dropped more than 30 trillion gallons of water on the state, refilling reservoirs that had sat empty for years and burying mountain towns in snow.

But climate change is making these storms much wetter and more intense, ratcheting up the risk of potential flooding in California and other states along the West Coast. That’s not only because the air over the Pacific will hold more moisture as sea temperatures rise, leading to giant rain and snow volumes, but also because warming temperatures on land will cause more precipitation to fall as rain in the future, which will lead to more dangerous floods.



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