Get ready for more dramatic shifts between severe drought and record-breaking rainfall.
California was a land of extremes well before humans started pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, but Swain says that natural drought-to-deluge boomerang is already turning into whiplash. Between 2013 and 2016 the state experienced the driest three years in state history. Toward the end of 2016 a cluster of atmospheric river storms set rainfall records, causing mudslides, a major bridge collapse, and a failure on the Oroville Dam’s primary spillway. Months later the largest wildfire in state history burned 280,000 acres outside of LA followed shortly by more floods and deadly mudslides. This caroming between extremes year to year is only expected to increase as a warming climate allows the atmosphere to hold exponentially more water. Literally.
“The physical laws of thermodynamics raise the ceiling on the intensity of these precipitation events in a really robust, reliable way,” says Swain. “It doesn’t mean it will always be raining, but it does mean that eventually all that water has to fall out somewhere.”