Southern California got its biggest rainstorm of the season today. Forecasters say by the time it moves on, the region could get up to three inches of rain and up to three feet of snow in the mountains.
“This one has everything going for it. It has an atmospheric river, a lot of cold air. Combine that with that tropical warm moisture and a lot of wind with the storm. We've seen wind gusts of 80 miles per hour in the San Bernardino mountains already,” says Alex Tardy, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
This kind of storm can’t be associated with climate change, he notes, and it tends to happen once every December right before Christmas. Next week’s expected storm will bring heavy rain to some parts of Southern California, but it won’t be as strong as this one.
To make a dent in the state’s drought, five to 10 more similar storms would need to occur, he points out.
When it comes to fire season, California was spared this year. That’s partly due to luck, Tardy says. “The other part of it is you need … to get ignition when conditions are right, when it's hot, when it's windy, when the fuels are very dry. And we didn't get that. The other theory also points to the fact that we didn't have a lot of vegetation. Weeds, grasses, flowers — you need those in Southern California, at least, to get the fire to spread into the bigger timber.”
January and February 2022 could be dry, meaning fire season could start in early spring, he predicts.
Meanwhile, tornadoes have devastated the Midwest, and storms that spawn tornadoes or heavy rain in that area almost always originate from one that moved across the West Coast, Tardy explains.
“Now you might be wondering: Why don't we get the tornadoes, why don't we get the severe lightning and thunderstorms and large hail? And there's different ingredients in place where those tornadoes occurred. One of them is the Gulf of Mexico — warm, moist air. Temperatures were record hot the day on Friday when they had those tornadoes during that night. But it's the same storm system that brought us rain in California last Thursday. So it tracks across the country, west to east, and it's all connected together like fluid. But it results in different types of weather depending on where you are in the United States.”