Tuesday, February 21, 2017

California Storm: Not Worst-Case Scenario, But....

This road in Santa Clara, California gave way during
the most recent spate of heavy rain in the Golden State.
The latest California storm is tapering off in the Golden State today.

It proved to be not a worst case scenario but still one that caused incredible amounts of trouble.

Plus the California rain and snow nightmare isn't done yet.  There's more rain and more runoff coming hat can continue to cause havoc in the next few days.

As it is, there have been a few swift water rescues, and at least one water-strained levee was breached in the San Joaquin Valley, forcing the evacuation of about 500 residents. 

One thing that's being talked about, as always seems to be the case, is what, if anything global warming had to do with the California storms.

There is some chatter from the climate change denial community that says climate activists had claimed that California was in a forever drought and the climate scientists were saying a wet winter like Caliifornia is having was a thing of the past.

As much as I respect Joe Bastatdi's meteorology, he's mistaken to suggest that there was a widespread belief that the Califoria drought was permanent, that heavy rain would never return to California. Only a few irresponsible commenters and extremists believed that

In reality, no serious climate scientist has made such claims. While the overall science of climate change is settled, the specifics of how it might influence a given location is still hazy.

We know that climate change is likely to cause more extreme weather in most places around the world, very likely in California as well.

The general, though admittably not unanimous consensus is that California is in for longer, more intense droughts than in the past. But it might also be prone to more severe winter rain and snow blasts.

California did just have an extreme, long-lasting drought that appears to have ended this winter.  Now this winter is in the running to be the wettest on record, or at least close to it.

That pattern of drought to extreme rain is consistent with what climate scientists say is in store for California, but of course that's not guaranteed.

Who knows? The state could revert to really bad, long lasting drought once this winter rainy season has gone by,  
The Great Flood of 1862 in Sacramento. While California
has not experienced such a megaflood this year, some
scientists warn the state is overdue for such
an epie inundation 

It's also possible this wet winter is a foretaste of what could be in store for California.

It has happened before.

Every once, say, 200 or 300 years, California gets hit by huge rains that make this winter seem like child's play.

The last time this happened was in 1862, in which California's Central Valley, including present day Sacramento, turned into a lake perhaps 20 or miles wide and up to 300 miles long. 

If that were to happen again - and it could - we could lose thousands of lives and see tens of billions of dollars or more in damage in California.

As bad as it is in California right now, we're no where close to this cataclysmic scenario.

Remember, with or without climate change, underlying weather and extremes will always happen.  The question is, will climate change make persistent weather patterns that might have happened anyway more extreme?

For instance, in a hotter world, will the heat increase evaporation and prevent snow from accumulating in the mountains, making droughts worse?

Many of the recent storms in California were due in large part to atmospheric rivers, relatively narrow ribbons of super wet air that move up from the tropics and target specific areas of the West Coast like a fire hose.

Atmospheric rivers have always happened and always will. That's meteorology, not climate.

However, will these naturally occuring atmospheric rivers turn more intense as the climate warms? After all, hotter air can hold more moisture than cooler air, so will the added heat supercharge the atmospheric rivers, making them more destructive once they make landfall on the West Coast?

No matter what, climate change will probably make things worse in California, as it will almost everywhere else on Earth.

It is going to rain again in California in the next several days and weeks, probably heavily at times.

Over the next week, parts of northern California could see up to a half foot of additional rain on saturated soil.

That's not as bad as the storm we just had, but it's guaranteed to keep the flood and mudslide and landslide threat going.

Californians begged for rain to end their punishing drought and they sure as hell got it. Now, they want a break, right?

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