After a winter of record rains and historic snowfall, California is now facing a new challenge as the state’s enormous snowpack begins to melt. The Sierra Nevada range is blanketed with a record level of snow, which contains enough water to fill downstream reservoirs “multiple times over.” Climate scientist Daniel Swain warns that the combination of warmer weather and sunny skies in the spring could lead to a rapid runoff, heightening flood risks in areas already saturated by the wet winter.
Challenges Across the American West
This challenge is not unique to California. Many states across the west are grappling with an extreme shift in conditions after years of devastating drought. The climate crisis, which intensifies extremes, is expected to fuel broad swings into the future. A rapid spring snowmelt is already wreaking havoc from the southwest to the Rockies.
Predicting Disasters Without a Playbook
Officials are left to navigate the challenges without a playbook. Disasters like these are increasingly difficult to predict, and the climate crisis has made models and forecasts that rely on historical data less reliable. Even with good data, the intel only goes so far, and small shifts in solar radiation and groundwater flow can make a big difference in outcomes.
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Communities at Risk
Scientists, officials, and advocates are particularly concerned about communities in California’s San Joaquin Valley, an agricultural hub that hugs the state’s mountainous middle. Winter storms in March caused destructive flooding, damaging homes, farmland, and crucial infrastructure. Counties are already estimating billions of dollars in damages, with millions more needed to fund repairs.
Preparing for Dangerous Water Flows
As the region races to prepare for dangerous water flows, impacts of the drought linger. Many communities in this region still struggle to access clean water for drinking and hygiene, and extreme heat exacerbates pollution problems, threatening the health of many who must endure without access to air conditioning.
The Role of Climate Crisis in Inequitable Preparations for Extreme Events
Experts warned that the risks California and the wider American west is facing will only get worse as the climate crisis intensifies. The risk of droughts and severe floods is rising in a warming climate, and the impact of those extreme weather events is felt longer. The dangers posed by the series of storms that hammered California now linger into the summer.
Moreover, a lack of resources and political representation in these rural disadvantaged towns has hampered their ability to adapt. It creates these inequitable preparations for extreme events, according to senior climate scientist José Pablo Ortiz Partida.
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The state’s enormous snowpack is now melting, and communities are bracing for waters to rise yet again, heightening flood risks in areas already saturated by the state’s extremely wet winter. Challenges like these are increasingly difficult to predict, and the climate crisis has made models and forecasts that rely on historical data less reliable. It is a challenge facing many states across the west, and the risks California and the wider American west is facing will only get worse as the climate crisis intensifies.The public can help by conserving water and reducing their carbon footprint. Additionally, they can stay informed about the issue and support policies and initiatives aimed at addressing the impacts of climate change.