Stronger Atmospheric Rivers Forecast: Good or Bad for Washington?
Atmospheric rivers have been recently forecast to grow even stronger every year, but what does that mean for Washington State?
Stonger Atmospheric Rivers Forecast for Washington State's Future
How do stronger atmospheric river forecasts actually affect the future of Washington State? That is a complicated question but the overall main takeaway you should first understand is that whatever the impact could be, it will be expensive. I guess the first question I should ask is, do you know what an atmospheric river even is? The U.S. Department of Agriculture says atmospheric rivers are large bodies of moisture in the atmosphere that can be 200 to over 300 miles wide and thousands of miles long. These systems account for between 30% to 50% of all precipitation for the entire western coast of the United States. These important weather systems also bring up to 90% of the south-to-north water vapor transport for the same area. In the past, these weather systems were referred to as "Pineapple Express” or “Chinook Winds" and usually happen in the fall and winter in the northwest. Atmospheric rivers can end longtime droughts but they can also create a lot of damage in their wake.
Global Temperatures Increase Both the Size and Power of Future Storms
The power behind current atmospheric rivers can already be devastating, but they will be getting stronger according to forecasts and trending data. The U.S. Department of Agriculture warns that climate change and rising average global temperatures increase both the size and destructive power of future storms. The higher temperatures allow the atmosphere to hold more moisture allowing these powerful storms to get even more monstrous. Their estimates show that by 2090, these storms could create between $2.3 and $3.2 billion in damages EVERY YEAR! Yes, that is "billion" with a capital B. Increased precipitation can lead to severe flooding and increased chances of mudslides. Drier summers and more wildfires along the West Coast can also lead to drastic soil erosion during atmospheric river storms for large parts of Washington, Oregon, and California in the winter months. Preparation for these storms is the answer to minimizing the overall damage. Some things that can be done to prepare areas susceptible to atmospheric river storm damage are replacing undersized culverts, removing unnecessary roads, and stabilizing vulnerable hillslopes. So are the increased atmospheric storms a good thing for the northwest? I will say it will bring a lot of water to drought-ridden parts of Washington, Oregon, and California, but it will come with a cost.