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This animation from NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory shows an atmospheric river event in January 2017. Atmospheric rivers are relatively narrow regions in the atmosphere that are responsible for most of the horizontal transport of water vapor outside of the tropics.
by Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer
This March will continue to bring more severe weather to the United States. An atmospheric river event — the “Pineapple Express” — is forecast to induce a rainy season in Washington and Oregon, as well as an increased risk of avalanches in the Pacific Northwest.
As the Pineapple Express moves from the ocean to the land, over mountains, it creates rain and snowfall, and even flooding. High winds, high tides, and river flooding will likely occur, while winds will consistently range from 15 to 25 mph, reaching as high as 40 mph in the next 72 hours. These winds could lead to power outages, an especially grave concern given that there are still thousands of people without power in Oregon from a storm that hit a week ago.
Likewise, tornadoes with their sporadic nature strike quickly and inflict maximal damage. Last year, a violent derecho in the midwest caused $11 billion of damage, caused by tornadoes, hail, and other severe thunderstorms.
La Niña Hits Hard: Both the Pineapple Express and the increase in tornado conditions can be traced back to the continuing La Niña conditions this spring.
Meanwhile, La Niña causes the jet stream to move northward, which develops thunderstorms further north and west, creating more potential for tornado outbreaks. La Niña also forces wind closer to the ground to strengthen, which makes it easier for tornadoes to form.
There’s evidence that suggests that La Niña conditions may grow worse as a result of climate change, because the warming world causes more moisture to be evaporated from the oceans into the atmosphere, providing more fuel for storm systems. This may mean that this spring of severe weather may not be the last.
We feel so badly for everyone in Texas suffering through days of bitter cold, many without heat. But the people at the northern U.S. end of the polar vortex are reeling from the cold as well. Low-temperature records are being broken in the northern plains — it’s so cold there that even Siberia was warmer. […]
After snowstorms swept across the South this week, 14 states are expecting power outages, frozen roads, and dangerous conditions. Hundreds of millions will be impacted by the storm. Millions will be experiencing rolling blackouts in the coming days due to stress on the Southwest Power Pool (SPP).
Why This Matters: Although it might seem that this polar vortex is an exception to global temperature rise, research says that erratic, far-reaching polar systems like the one we’re seeing now can be directly related to warming temperatures in the Arctic.
In 2020, many Californians prayed for rain as wildfires in the region destroyed millions of acres of land. But they got more than they bargained for when what weather forecasters described as an “atmospheric river” set a course for the state, causing storms that triggered catastrophic mudslides and washed out a section of Highway 1.
Why This Matters: Atmospheric rivers can carry as much water through the atmosphere as land rivers, and at similar speeds. Between 1978 and 2017, just 10 atmospheric rivers caused over half of all flood damage in the Western U.S.
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