This week is expected to see a massive atmospheric river enter Northern California (and probably more behind it), bringing with it plenty of precipitation. The term “atmospheric river” is thrown around a lot in California since we are typically the recipients of these significant weather events. So what exactly is an atmospheric river?
An atmospheric river is a narrow band of strong winds that carries a large amount of water vapor across the Earth’s surface. These events are known for their ability to transport large amounts of moisture from the tropics to other parts of the world, and they are a major contributor to the Earth’s water cycle.
Atmospheric rivers are formed when a low-pressure system moves across the Earth’s surface, causing the air to rise and cool. As the air cools, it can no longer hold as much water vapor, and the excess vapor condenses into clouds and precipitation. This process is known as orographic lifting, and it is what gives atmospheric rivers their characteristic shape and size.
Atmospheric rivers can be thousands of miles long and a few hundred miles wide, and they can carry as much as 15 times the water vapor that the average river on the Earth’s surface carries. These events are often referred to as “rivers in the sky,” and they can bring much-needed moisture to dry regions, but they can also cause flooding and other weather-related hazards.
Atmospheric rivers are an important part of the Earth’s water cycle, and they play a critical role in regulating the Earth’s climate. They are a major contributor to the Earth’s precipitation, and they help to redistribute moisture from the tropics to other parts of the world. Despite their importance, atmospheric rivers are still not fully understood, and scientists are working to better understand these events and their impact on the Earth’s climate.
NorCal is currently in the midst of a wet pattern we haven’t seen in years. Let’s hope these atmospheric rivers keep coming in 2023.