Home Sci-TechScience Atmospheric rivers cause $1 billion in damage a year, study shows, and are…

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Atmospheric rivers cause $1 billion in damage a year, study shows, and are…

by Ace Damon
Map of precipitable water during an atmospheric river

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As consecutive atmospheric rivers have made umbrellas a statewide necessity – and with more rainfall in California this weekend – a new study reveals the connection between the weather phenomenon and the economic effects of localized flooding.

Atmospheric rivers, storms that carry moisture from the tropics to mid-latitude regions, have been linked to the ecological impacts they cause in a region. But when the storm passes, what's left in its wake?

On a study Published Wednesday in Science Advances, researchers found that from 1978 to 2017, atmospheric rivers accounted for $ 42.6 billion in flood damage in 11 western states – 84% of the total estimated water damage from $ 50.8 billion. That's about $ 1.1 billion in atmospheric river damage every year.

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Mission Hills resident Alberto Rodriguez, 32, walks knee-deep in a flooded street outside his house on the left on Woodman Avenue. A break in the water line caused most of the floods.

(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

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A large platform swings over a ramp that connects the 710 and 60 highways in Los Angeles amidst constant rain on Wednesday.

(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

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Nancy Marquez hugs her Perrito dog in front of his home on flooded Woodman Avenue in Mission Hills.

(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

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Alex Diaz pours water into the flooded backyard of his father-in-law's home on Woodman Avenue in Mission Hills.

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(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

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Miguel Cruz leans on his car outside his Mission Hills home while water flows down Woodman Avenue.

(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

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Hanging clouds cover downtown Los Angeles.

(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

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A man walks near the Broad Museum in downtown Los Angeles.

(Gabriella Angotti-Jones / Los Angeles Times)

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A runner on the main beach in Laguna Beach.

(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

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Blue sky breaks storm clouds between the rains at Ryan Bonaminio Park in Riverside.

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(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

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Clouds over the center after heavy rain.

(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

"Research has shown that these storms will become more intense in the coming decades," said Tom Corringham, one of the authors of the study by UC San Diego Scripps Oceanography Institution and the US Army Corps of Engineers.

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Atmospheric rivers are a concentrated line of water vapor at medium and lower atmospheric levels. The continuous flow of moisture pushes the ocean until it encounters an obstacle, such as the western shorelines, which cause the atmospheric river to release its moisture charge.

Some atmospheric rivers are weak and produce beneficial rainfall, helping to overcome devastating droughts.

In 2016, a series of larger atmospheric rivers helped alleviate California's epic drought, producing record rainfall and snow in the northern part of the state.

Only a few river weather events can provide West Coast states such as California, one third to half annual precipitation, increasing snow levels and filling basins. A strong atmospheric river can carry 7 to 15 times the average flow of liquid water at the mouth of the Mississippi River. In fact, Corringham says he is working on a new study that examines the benefits of moisture-rich storms as they replenish their water supply.

However, larger and more destructive atmospheric rivers can cause extreme rainfall, flooding and landslides.

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Total precipitable water from satellite imagery during an atmospheric river in early April 2019.

(CW3E at UCSD, images from CIMSS / University of Wisconsin)

On average, 30% to 50% of West Coast annual rainfall comes from some atmospheric rivers each year. And the new data concludes that 99% of all flood damage in the western coastal states of California, Oregon and Washington was caused by atmospheric rivers.

Atmospheric rivers, a term replacing the often used "pineapple express", accounted for at least $ 19.2 billion in damage across California – more than any other state examined during the study period. . The researchers found that Sonoma County was most affected by the weather phenomenon, piling up $ 5.2 billion in destruction.

Two major atmospheric events in northern California played a significant role in the state's water costs: the seven-day flooding of the Russian River at Guerneville in 1995 and a 2017 event that damaged the spillways of the Oroville dam in northern California. , causing evacuations by over 180,000 residents. Both events caused more than $ 1 billion in damage.

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The study shows that a small number of "extreme" atmospheric rivers – only 13 in 40 years – accounted for a significant amount of flood damage in the 11 states.

The exceptionally cold and rainy winter of last season brought epic snow and severe flooding in northern California, with dozens of atmospheric rivers reaching the state in early 2019.

Water flows through a burned tributary on the way to Lake Mendocino

Water flows through a burned tributary en route to Lake Mendocino in February 2019.

(Center of Western Extremes of Climate and Water; UC San Diego)

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Infrastructure also takes into account the cost of damage, research shows. Areas near the coast and rivers were more vulnerable to significant flooding.

Heavy rainfall can cause extensive road damage, often forcing closures as the asphalt gives way. Road repairs in the San Jacinto and San Bernardino Mountains, after several moisture-laden atmospheric rivers that hit the area in February, are estimated to cost at least $ 14 million.

"There is not much evidence that people are moving to safer areas after their homes are damaged," Corringham said. “Usually people rebuild themselves in a location that puts them at risk in future floods.”

The Congressional Budget Office reports that storm-related flood damage from hurricanes and floods costs $ 54 billion a year. But Corringham said that, unlike hurricane and tornado calculations, there is no systemic record of the damage caused by atmospheric rivers, despite advances in the past decade.

As the weather warms, extreme atmospheric rivers become more intense, the researchers found. Modest increases in the intensity of a storm can result in significant monetary damage. Without stabilizing the global climate system, it is not just land that will be at risk, Corringham said.

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"It's one of many ways the economy will be affected by climate change."

Times team writer Paul Duginski contributed to this report.

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