California has long been known for its Mediterranean climate — dry summers and wet winters that set the stage for a strong agricultural economy, renowned wineries and perfect weather that brings tourists from all over the country.
But climate scientists say those same factors also make California vulnerable to extreme shifts in climate and weather patterns, causing them to swing like a pendulum from drought to flood — a “weather whip.”
Human-caused climate change has not only increased the severity of extreme weather across the country, but it has also interrupted the usual patterns, increasing the likelihood that such weather whipsaws, especially in California, will occur more frequently.
The current march of atmospheric river storms battering California all comes against the backdrop of a years-long climate-change-induced megadrought that has drained the state’s reservoirs and sparked water shortages.
But while these storms brought much-needed rain and snow, parched land was less able to absorb all the rain, resulting in widespread flooding due to the intensity and back-to-back nature of the storms.
A 2018 study in the journal Nature found that these violent weather swings are likely to occur twice as often in the future, with Southern California experiencing the most frequent swings.
The researchers found that by the end of the century, extremely wet years are expected to be 2.5 times more likely, while extremely dry years will be 140% more frequent.
As the multi-year drought continues, it’s time for California to rethink how it manages the rainy season, climate scientists told CNN. How does it make use of this water during the dry months? Scientists recommend reducing reliance on dykes and keeping land around rivers safely flooded so water has a chance to seep into underground aquifers.