California residents are preparing for an upcoming atmospheric river event that could result in dangerous floods and heavy rain across the state’s northern and central regions. Despite still dealing with heavy snow, the potential for flooding and other hazards poses a significant threat to vulnerable communities.
Alistair Hayden, a professor of public and ecosystem health and a former division chief at the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, emphasizes that atmospheric rivers are a major hazard for California. These weather events have a history of causing significant flooding throughout California’s past, including the Great Flood of 1862 that transformed the Central Valley into an inland sea.
According to Hayden, atmospheric rivers become even more dangerous when paired with other events, such as rainfall on snow or in recent wildfire-burn areas. As with all disasters, the harm caused by atmospheric rivers is largely due to inadequate physical and social infrastructure. Often, marginalized communities bear the brunt of these disasters.
Hayden warns that the series of atmospheric rivers that led to the Great Flood of 1862 will happen again and is known as “The Other Big One,” as it would be as catastrophic as a major earthquake. Recent research suggests that climate change increases the likelihood of this event occurring, making it critical to learn from the current atmospheric river situation and prepare accordingly for the future.