Oct 25, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Atmospheric river slams California, but La Niña winter looms

Data: NOAA; Map: Will Chase/Axios

The extreme atmospheric river pummeling parts of Northern California — attached to a record strong bomb cyclone, no less — may be a poor indicator of how this winter will treat the West.

Why it matters: With much of the West locked in the first climate change-related megadrought, with an especially pronounced dry period since 2020, hopes are pinned on the rain and mountain snow that could fall during the wet season.

What's next: A second consecutive year of La Niña conditions in the tropical Pacific is in store, and it favors a drier-than-average winter for much of the Southwest, NOAA warned last week.

  • As if to foreshadow this pattern, the ongoing atmospheric river event is delivering far less rain to Los Angeles and San Diego compared to San Francisco.
  • The La Niña influence on the winter outlook also holds true across parts of Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

Yes, but: Though La Niña events tend to be correlated with dry winters in these areas, every La Niña event is unique.

Go deeper ... In photos: Drought-ravaged California lashed by major storm

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