Praying for a Miracle March

Miracle March

Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s an atmospheric river! 



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Be careful what you wish for. Californians have been praying for rain and have been blasted by a rampaging river. 

This isn’t just a normal river. It is an atmospheric river. Scientists used to call it a “moisture plume”, residents call it a “Pineapple Express” but that doesn’t convey how blasted powerful these things are! Imagine a river of water, larger than any river on Earth, flowing through the sky then dumping on your head. 

These rivers start off as storms in the tropics. You’ve seen the parade of hurricanes and tropical storms that march through tropical waters. They generate enormous amounts of moisture and, thanks to the spin of the Earth, this moisture gets spun away from the equator to the poles. They are typically thousands of miles long, a few hundred miles wide and flow a few miles high in the sky. Then they hit the cold air over land and all that water crashes down to earth.

Storms march across the tropics and generate rivers of moisture. Source: NASA

California really needs this rain. Despite all the wonderful promises, El Niño has been a disappointment. It was supposed to bring lots of rain and some dreamers even fantasized that it would end the five-year drought. Instead, by the end of the December/January/February winter season, there was below average rainfall. The state’s reservoirs are at 67% of normal. Worse yet, its snowpack is only 79% of normal, down from 113% at the end of January. California’s major source of water is snowmelt and the resulting river flow.

California is still in drought

The good news is that typically El Niños produce a “Miracle March” or “Amazing April”, a last stormy flurry of the West Coast wet season. This March is starting off with the lovely miracle of an atmospheric river that is expected to bring a lot of rain and up to three feet of snow for the high mountains. It also brought flash floods and some mudslides, but on the plus side (if you are an aging surfer like Evelyn) it is sweeping in some major waves.

California will share the wealth, Washington, Oregon, the Intermountain West, even parts of British Columbia will get rain and snow. The “Miracle March” will storm inland.


~ By  Evelyn Browing Garriss and James J. Garriss

About This Blog

Evelyn Browning Garriss doesn't just blog about the weather forecast; she provides insight on WHY extreme weather is happening--and a heads up on weather to watch out for. A historical climatologist, Evelyn blogs about weather history, interesting facts about the weather, and upcoming climate events that affect your life--from farming to your grocery bill. Every week, we look forward to another great weather column from Evelyn. We encourage our weather watchers to post their comments and questions--and tell us what they think!


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I would have been beneficial for Gov. Brown to build reservoirs to capture rain instead of his boondoggle speed train, that no one will use. I wonder how the smelt population is doing that so many were worried about instead of capturing rain for crops, citizens who pay taxes and the years we won't have rain. Very short sighted on the part of our Lib govn in CA.

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