This week was for history books.
Sacramento was hit by a severe storm on Sunday. this is the wettest day since the start of record keeping in the 1800s.
Eight days earlier, Sacramento had broken another record – the longest dry spell in the city’s history, with 212 days without rain.
This is a study of the contrasts played out throughout California. San Francisco, Redding and several other cities have broken rainfall records in recent days in what was generally one of the driest and hottest years in California history.
Experts say the takeaway from the past few days shouldn’t be that the drought is over – we’ll need a lot more rain for that – but that it is a glimpse into California’s future.
According to a 2018 study published in the journal Nature Climate Change, the total rainfall that California receives each year is unlikely to change significantly this century, but we are likely to experience longer dry seasons and shorter but more intense wet seasons from – for global warming.
These torrential rains can be very destructive.
In the winter of 2016-17, California’s extreme rainy season caused landslides, the collapse of a major bridge in Big Sur, and flooding that forced more than 100,000 people near Sacramento to flee their homes.
While rain is generally welcome in a drought-prone state, rainfall immediately following a drought can be particularly devastating, even fatal.
Drought dries up the land and contributes to more severe fire seasons. So when it rains, the vegetation that normally holds the soil in place either charred or dries up, allowing the water to wash away the soil.
Scientists call these rapid transitions from extremely dry to extremely wet conditions “whiplash.” By the end of the century, their frequency is expected to increase by 25 percent in Northern California and double in Southern California.
As Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at the University of California Los Angeles and lead author of the study, said, said on twitter This week: “It’s worth noting that this very situation – an extremely strong atmospheric river bringing a brief period of record rainfall in the midst of a severe drought and warming temperatures – is what we expect to see in California with #ClimateChange.”