Today’s Image of the Day comes thanks to NASA’s Earth Observatory and features a stunning look at the atmospheric river responsible for soaking California this past week. The photo was taken by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) onboard the Suomi-NPP.
But what exactly is an atmospheric river, anyway? By definition, atmospheric rivers are long and narrow areas of the atmosphere that transport large amounts of water vapor and move with the weather. Once they hit land, atmospheric rivers release this water vapor in the form of precipitation. While they come in many sizes, the ones with the largest volumes of water and the strongest winds can be extremely potent and lead to the types of flooding seen in California this past week.
The atmospheric river in this image can be seen swooping across the center-right of the photo, smacking right into the California coast. The storms caused significant flooding, particularly in the Sacramento Valley, and over two dozen reported mud or debris flows.
As we reported last week, nearly 200,000 people were evacuated out of concern that the Oroville Dam might completely give in to the rising water levels and collapse.
During the atmospheric river that hit southern California on February 17th and 18th, rainfall records were smashed in Death Valley, Santa Barbara, and Las Vegas.
Elsewhere, northern Nevada has received over 500 inches of snow this winter.
But not all atmospheric rivers are so severe. In fact, most are weak and simply provide helpful rainfall to usually-parched areas. As such, atmospheric rivers play a crucial role in the global water cycle.
By Rory Arnold, Earth.com Staff Writer
Source: NASA Earth Observatory