Close to 10 inches of rain fell, with winds gusting near 100 mph in spots, this insane atmospheric river cut power for more than 600,000 customers.
Yes, the Pacific Northwest is known for rain, but not this much. So far this year, Seattle has seen nearly 6.5″ of rain. With an additional 2-4 inches forecast, the city could receive roughly 25% of its annual rainfall by January 15 from the atmospheric river that’s drenching the region.
“This soggy start could propel Seattle to its single wettest start of any year on record. The previous wettest Jan 1-15 period occurred in January 1956, when nearly 7 inches fell in the first half the month,” says CNN meteorologist Pedram Javaheri.
Atmospheric rivers are long, narrow regions in the atmosphere – like rivers in the sky – that transport water vapor.
Flooding concern for 15 million people
This atmospheric river event is being classified as a Category 5 – the highest level, with roughly 15 million people under some sort of flooding watch or advisory. Parts of western Washington could see 300% of normal rainfall, according to the Weather Prediction Center.
“Soil saturation levels are ranging from 75-95% along the western third of the region right now. It won’t take much rainfall to lead to surface flooding,” says Javaheri.
There’s also plenty of warmth in the mid-levels of the atmosphere during this particular atmospheric river event. This will raise snow levels on elevations above 6,000 feet across much of the Cascades, with rain falling below that level.
“This will further exacerbate flooding concerns as heavy rain falls atop abundant snow. The threat for rapid melting, increased runoff and downstream river flooding is something everyone in western Oregon and Washington should be on alert for,” says Javaheri.
In Portland, Oregon, the National Weather Service Office has forecast up to 7 inches of rain in the higher terrain and up to 2 inches for the lowlands through Wednesday morning. Along with that, there’s a high-wind warning in effect.
Wind warnings extend along the whole Oregon coastline, where gusts could reach up to 75 mph. This raises concerns for downed trees, power outages and possible hazards along Interstate 5.
The impacts from the record-setting wildfires are also raising the threats of flooding for Oregon. According to the Oregon Department of Forestry, more than 1 million acres burned. These burn scars that remain make the flood threat even greater, due to charred ground with no vegetation to soak up the rainwater. This enhances the possibility of flash flooding and landslides due to the loose terrain.
What is an atmospheric river?
The weather phenomenon causing all of this rain is called an atmospheric river. They basically are rivers of moisture high in the atmosphere. They carry abundant moisture from tropical regions and release it in other areas in the form of rain or snow.
According to NOAA: “These columns of vapor move with the weather, carrying an amount of water vapor roughly equivalent to the average flow of water at the mouth of the Mississippi River.“
This atmospheric river is probably caused by the bombogenesis storm highway that has recently opened in the Northern Pacific Ocean. So be ready! I doubt this will be the last record-breaking and insane rain and flooding event to hit the region this winter!