Mike Flynn links here to a nice write-up in SciAm about the epic California Winter of ’61 – 1861, that is. I’d noticed that, for the few places with records that go back that far, rainfall and snowpack records in California were set in the 1861-1862 rainy season. I didn’t know, until I read the article linked above, that that storm was an epic of even greater than Biblical proportions: it rained for *43* straight days and nights.
(above: typical California weather. Don’t let them tell you otherwise!)
To sum up: every 100 to 200 years or so, over the course of a few weeks, epic ‘atmospheric rivers’ flow into the West Coast, hit all those lovely mountains, and dump feet upon feet of rain, turning all those lovely rivers into raging torrents and the Central Valley into a lake, washing people, animals, farms, etc. into the Bay, flooding Sacramento (there’s alway a bright side) under 10′ of water – and so on, all up and down the coast.
OK, I give! Uncle! Public service announcement:
Do Not Move to California! We Are So, So Doomed!
On the bright side: Sacramento gets flooded out! Uninhabitable for months! Well, OK, there are the 1.4 million people who are not politicians and courtesans who live there, so maybe not so bright. Man’s gotta dream. On a similar let-God-sort-them-out despicable fantasy don’t-really-wish-this-on-anyone vein: only part of Hollywood is in the hills – the rest is getting washed out into the Pacific! My hometown of Whittier is nicely nestled in the hills above the San Gabriel River, so it’s probably safe. But then again, so is Beverly Hills – well, you can’t have everything.
So sorry, that was mean of me. Really, I don’t wish harm on anyone – that’s why I’m warning you all to Stay Away! Don’t Do It! California is a Death Trap!!! I will be softly weeping at our fate as I try to console myself sipping fresh lemonade out in the hammock on the back lawn under the shady walnut trees in perfect 75F weather all the rest of the spring. I promise!! It’s the least I can do. No, really.
A curious thing: all this doom and gloom only came together in the last couple decades – since 1998. Before then, the existence and nature of ‘atmospheric rivers’ and the periodic nature of the intense rain and flooding had not been known, nor had it been recognized as a basic feature of the planet’s climate – the same thing happens along the west coasts of Europe, Africa and South America, and even in the Southeast – the flooding in Tennessee a few years back was caused by atmospheric rivers arising in the Gulf of Mexico.
But wait – that means that no climate models had these mechanisms incorporated in them. Seems a rather serious omission, like omitting ocean temperatures and cycles. Hard to see how meaningful and useful predictions can be made, lacking as the models did such a dramatic and important mechanism.
At about the same time, satellites carrying the new Special Sensor Microwave Imager were for the first time providing clear and complete observations of water-vapor distributions globally. The imagery showed that water vapor tended to concentrate in long, narrow, moving corridors that extend most often from the warm, moist air of the tropics into the drier, cooler regions outside the tropics. The tentacles appeared and then fell apart on timescales from days to a couple of weeks.
The above quote tells us that the technology needed to start to understand atmospheric rivers wasn’t in place until 1998 or so. But the article elsewhere also says (as required by law, it seems) that the epic storms they sometimes cause will become worse because of global warming. Um, didn’t we just say we’d not noted their existence until less than 20 years ago, and have not even had one cycle through to study them, and that we’re not exactly sure what makes them go? An inquiring mind might want to know how, in such a sparsely populated factual environment, we could even have a hint which way changes in global temperatures would affect atmospheric river formation and intensity. Ya know?
I’m expecting 2018 or 2019, tops, as The Year California Washes Out To Sea. Why, one might ask? Well, intense weather tends to travel in packs – having one really wet year increases, it seems, the likelihood of another. And we’re due. And if we’ve learned anything from this last election cycle, one should start panicking as soon as possible and not let the lack of any real evidence slow you down.
I’m getting more lemonade.