Coronavirus Information for the UC San Diego Community

Our leaders are working closely with federal and state officials to ensure your ongoing safety at the university. Stay up to date with the latest developments. Learn more.

Atmospheric rivers drive flood damages in the western United States

TitleAtmospheric rivers drive flood damages in the western United States
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsCorringham T.W, Ralph FM, Gershunov A, Cayan DR, Talbot C.A
Date Published2019/12
Type of ArticleArticle
ISBN Number2375-2548
Accession NumberWOS:000505069600038
Keywordsalgorithm; california; climate; fluxes; oroville dam; scale; Science & Technology - Other Topics; tracking; vapor; winter

Atmospheric rivers (ARs) are extratropical storms that produce extreme precipitation on the west coasts of the world's major landmasses. In the United States, ARs cause significant flooding, yet their economic impacts have not been quantified. Here, using 40 years of data from the National Flood Insurance Program, we show that ARs are the primary drivers of flood damages in the western United States. Using a recently developed AR scale, which varies from category 1 to 5, we find that flood damages increase exponentially with AR intensity and duration: Each increase in category corresponds to a roughly 10-fold increase in damages. Category 4 and 5 ARs cause median damages in the tens and hundreds of millions of dollars, respectively. Rising population, increased development, and climate change are expected to worsen the risk of AR-driven flood damage in future decades.

Student Publication: