Residents in California are bracing for a strong atmospheric river event that could bring torrential rain and dangerous floods across the northern and central part of the state. This comes as residents are still digging out from layers of heavy snow.
Alistair Hayden, a professor of practice in public and ecosystem health and a former division chief at the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, says that atmospheric rivers like the one forecast for later this week are a major hazard for California and, like other disasters, can be especially harmful to vulnerable communities.
“Atmospheric rivers have caused significant flooding throughout California history, including the Great Flood of 1862 that made California’s Central Valley an inland sea 300 miles long and 20 miles wide.
“Atmospheric rivers are especially dangerous paired with other events—rainfall on snow can cause rapid flooding and rainfall on recent wildfire-burn areas often causes dangerous debris flows.
“Disasters are not natural — weather events become disasters when our physical and social infrastructure are insufficient. Communities most harmed by disasters are often those who have been marginalized in other ways.
“The series of atmospheric rivers that caused that the Great Flood of 1862 will happen again and is known as ‘The Other Big One’ because it would be as disastrous as the major earthquake known as ‘The Big One.’ Recent research indicates climate change makes ‘The Other Big One’ more likely, so lessons learned from this year’s atmospheric rivers are important for future preparedness.”