Explainer: What causes storms in California?

A state of emergency was declared in California after more than 10 days of storms that swept the state, claiming at least 14 lives.

Heavy rain caused rivers to overflow, inundated vehicles and caused mass power outages.

For more than a week now, the state has been facing the brunt of two intertwined weather systems – atmospheric rivers and bomb tornadoes, causing extreme weather events.

What is an atmospheric river?

Heavy rainfall is stimulated by a river in the atmosphere – a band of airborne moisture that can stretch 1,000 miles long and 350 miles wide.

Heavy rainfall is stimulated by a river in the atmosphere – a band of airborne moisture that can stretch 1,000 miles long and 350 miles wide.

On average, an atmospheric river carries about the same amount of water vapor as the average water flow at the mouth of the Mississippi River, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The weather system is caused by moisture in the ocean. It can move thousands of miles before it rains, which can lead to severe flooding or landslides.

This particular river is an example of a fast pineapple river – a result of hydration near Hawaii, which was formed after warm water off the Pacific Ocean evaporated, before it moved to the West Coast. Once in the air, winds carry the river over the mountains before it falls as rain or snow.

Pictured: This aerial view shows a flooded house partially submerged underwater in Gilroy, California, on January 9, 2023

Pictured: This aerial view shows a partially flooded house underwater in Gilroy, California, on January 9, 2023

This aerial view shows a damaged sidewalk split in Capitola, California, on January 9, 2023.

This aerial view shows a damaged sidewalk split in Capitola, California, on January 9, 2023.

On Sunday, the National Weather Service warned of a “relentless parade of rivers in the atmosphere.”

It is the third atmospheric river to hit the state since December 26.

In California, only 17 percent of storms on the state’s west coast are caused by atmospheric rivers, however, they contribute between 30 and 50 percent of the regions precipitation.

What are spiral bombs?

Explosive tornadoes are low-pressure storm systems that help move rivers through the atmosphere, causing severe weather effects.

They are caused by a combination of high and low temperatures, which cause air pressure to rise and fall, resulting in severe storms and strong winds.

It is called the bomb cyclone as meteorologists liken the sudden drop in pressure to a bomb exploding.

Other terms to describe it include “explosive ring formation” and “explosive ring formation”.

How common are atmospheric rivers?

Atmospheric rivers occur regularly throughout the United States during the winter months, and account for 50 percent of all rain and snow in the West.

However, when there are a number of rivers in the atmosphere in a row, as California is now experiencing, it leaves the area more vulnerable to floods and landslides.

While the weather system is more common on the West Coast of the United States, it is also seen in other parts of the world.

In 2009, the Joy River slammed into the northwest of the UK, carrying about 4,500 times as much water as London’s Thames, according to a study by the University of Reading and the University of Iowa.

More research also predicted that climate change would make atmospheric rivers longer and wider by 25 percent, and thus carry more water.

Atmospheric rivers occur regularly across the United States during the winter months, and account for 50 percent of all rain and snow in the West.  Pictured: A mudslide flooded parts of Studio City, California

Atmospheric rivers occur regularly throughout the United States during the winter months, and account for 50 percent of all rain and snow in the West. Pictured: A mudslide flooded parts of Studio City, California

An aerial view of flooded homes in Felton, California on January 9, 2023

An aerial view of flooded homes in Felton, California on January 9, 2023

Why is this atmospheric river so bad?

Atmospheric rivers are among the most damaging storms, according to the NASA Earth Observatory, because they produce extremely dangerous winds.

Duane Waliser at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has studied the most destructive storms over the past two decades and found that rivers in the atmosphere are associated with half of these storms.

This atmospheric river weather system is particularly dangerous because it coincides with bomb cyclones on the West Coast, with pressure from the bomb hurricane primarily pulling up the river.

The United States Geological Survey said atmospheric rivers have the potential to be as destructive as tornadoes.

As with hurricanes, atmospheric rivers have a rating system that indicates whether the storm is primarily beneficial, primarily dangerous, or a combination of the two.

The current storm bound for California, according to CBS Chief Meteorologist Paul Hagen, is classified as a Category 3 — both hazardous and beneficial.

Almost all of California has seen torrential rain in the past several weeks, totaling between 400 and 600 percent above average, the National Weather Service said. Pictured: Abandoned car underwater in East Santa Barbara, California

Almost all of California has seen torrential rain in the past several weeks, totaling between 400 and 600 percent above average, the National Weather Service said. Pictured: Abandoned car underwater in East Santa Barbara, California

Caltrans crews clear a mudslide on Interstate 17 that was caused by torrential rain from a river storm in the Santa Cruz Mountains, south of Glenwood Drive in Scott Valley, California, Monday, January 9, 2023.

Caltrans crews clear a mudslide on Interstate 17 that was caused by torrential rain from a river storm in the Santa Cruz Mountains, south of Glenwood Drive in Scott Valley, California, Monday, January 9, 2023.

How much precipitation in California so far?

Most of California has seen torrential rains in the past several weeks, the National Weather Service said, totaling between 400 and 600 percent above average.

It reported that in the past 24 hours, 14 inches (35.5 cm) of rain fell in the region, and up to seven inches (18 cm) is expected to be dumped in the next few days.

Heavy rains are expected to continue on Tuesday, further saturating the soil and increasing rising river levels.

The National Weather Service said: ‘Today’s heavy rains will exacerbate ongoing flooding while prolonging flood and mudslide risks especially in areas of recent burn scars.

“By later tonight, the storm system will quickly push inland, bringing widespread snowfall across the Great Basin as heavy precipitation across California begins to fall.”

She added that another hurricane is also forming off the coast of the continent and will bring another atmospheric river into the state tomorrow, with rainfall totals ranging from three to seven inches of rain across the state.

However, the bright side is that increased rainfall has improved aridity levels in the region.

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