The relationship between weather conditions, atmospheric rivers, and floods in the California Delta

Authors: Pam Rittelmeyer*, University of California - Santa Cruz
Topics: Hazards, Risks, and Disasters, Climatology and Meteorology, Hazards and Vulnerability
Keywords: flood, weather, natural disaster
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/8/2020
Start / End Time: 1:45 PM / 3:00 PM
Room: Spruce, Sheraton, IM Pei Tower, Majestic Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Most of the precipitation in California is delivered during short, intense storms referred to as “atmospheric rivers”. While this phenomenon is not new, recent advances in satellite data and computation have only recently led the study of it. Historically, much of the precipitation in northern California has come in the form of snow which melts slowly over the spring and summer months. As the climate warms, the impacts of atmospheric rivers will likely cause more flood events. This is particularly problematic in the California Delta at the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers where over 60 agricultural islands, many of which are below sea level, are protected by levees. A better understanding the combination of local characteristics of atmospheric rivers and the weather conditions during flood events can predict potential floods in this region. Using time series of climatic and hydrological data from 1980-2019, this study improves our knowledge of how freezing elevation, duration, integrated vapor transport, and the timing of storms work together to produce high flows in a river system.

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