Atmospheric Rivers Cause Problems in California

mudslide damage
Atmospheric rivers have caused mudslides in areas of Los Angeles and an unusually cold and rainy winter in California.

Extreme weather has been in the news often in the past year. Serious hurricanes have caused major damage to different parts of the country. The Midwest and Northeast of the United States have experienced dangerously cold temperatures this winter. Even California has experienced an unusually cold and rainy winter because of a scientific phenomenon called atmospheric rivers.

Atmospheric rivers are large, narrow columns of water vapor [a substance in its gas state] in the atmosphere. They are called atmospheric rivers because they carry so much water that they are like rivers in the sky.

A strong atmospheric river can carry more water than parts of a big river, even a big river like the Mississipppi. Atmospheric rivers can cause heavy rain or snowfall when they reach land.

A series of atmospheric rivers have contributed to the unusually cold and rainy winter in California. In the middle of February, the largest atmospheric river yet arrived in California. It carried water from the Hawaiian tropics thousands of miles away onto the California coast. It has caused heavy rains and flooding.

Officials fear the atmospheric river may cause more flooding in North California and mudslides in Los Angeles. New damage may be very hard on residents of areas that are still recovering from wildfires this summer.

What Can You Do: If a storm is approaching, be sure to contact an adult and go to a safe place.

Photo Credit: Susan Cannon, USGS