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Climate and Environment

Rain Is On Its Way To California — Now In Statewide Drought Emergency. Why LA May Not See Much

A vibrantly colored map of the U.S. shows heavy red areas marking impending rainfall on the West Coast.
The forecast for Oct. 20 through Oct.27
(Courtesy NOAA)
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With the 2021 rainfall year closing out as the driest in nearly 100 years, forecasts of multiple rainstorms are welcome news for drought-stricken California.

Starting Wednesday, a series of three atmospheric rivers is set to make landfall over Northern California.

Atmospheric rivers are narrow bands in the atmosphere that carry water vapors out of the tropics, bringing rain or snow. Later this week, a stronger and longer atmospheric river is expected.

This is good news for the brittle landscape brought on by the state’s severe drought (Gov. Newsom just extended the drought emergency to all counties in the state) but Southern California will see very little of this week’s precipitation.

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"Normally, we're talking about dryness and October, Santa Ana wind concerns, but not this October,” said Dan Gregoria, a National Weather Service meteorologist. “We're instead talking about the potential of early season rainfall, which is a good thing for fire weather concerns."

On Monday, the coastal and valley regions could get up to half an inch of rain and the mountains could see up to an inch.

The precipitation will come in the form of an atmospheric river. That's a long, band of moisture high in the sky that forms over the ocean.

We care about them because they’re responsible for delivering a large portion of our water here, as much as 50% annually.

An illustration of the West Coast from an aerial perspective shows a thick band of blue moisture forming over the ocean and traveling inland over California's mountains.
(Courtesy NOAA)
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Really, every time we see one we should be celebrating, because it only take a handful of real big atmospheric rivers to set us on the right water path for the year.

The concern: heavy rain in burn areas, which could cause mudslides that threaten homes and lives.

An important note: It should be said that atmospheric rivers are finicky, and next Monday is still a bit far out.

So we’ll keep you updated on how things develop over the week.

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Jacob Margolis helps Southern Californians understand the science shaping our imperfect paradise and gets us prepared for what’s next.