An average atmospheric river is about twelve hundred miles long, three hundred miles wide, and nearly two miles deep. Strong atmospheric rivers can move moisture at fifteen times the discharge rate of the Mississippi River. However, it’s a delicate balancing act because the western United States depends on this moisture for vital freshwater resources and to relieve drought conditions.
Climate change and global warming have fed into the strength of these atmospheric rivers year after year. While these rivers of moisture are beneficial for many reasons in the western United States, there’s also a price to pay if the precipitation is too heavy. Strong back-to-back atmospheric river storms can bring serious hazards such as extreme rainfall, flooding, landslides, debris flows, avalanches, and levee breaks.
A warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, boosting the potential for warmer, wetter, and more intense atmospheric river storms and greater flood risks and higher costs. It’s not all negative news when it comes to these rivers though as numerous lakes have refilled out west and the ski season has been one of a kind. Snow enthusiasts will likely have enough fresh powder to last them into mid-summer.