Storm trackers aim to help mitigate weather risks

Randy Pench/The Sacramento Bee via APPreparation: A new system to detect storm patterns in Northern California will help determine areas that are at risk of flooding.

Scientists can predict storms such as the one that struck the Bay Area on Sunday with some clarity when the systems are over the ocean. But once they make landfall, what happens becomes a little murkier.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Monday in San Francisco that it has formed a sensor network statewide that will help track storms and better predict floods.

Hundreds of monitoring stations are being installed to form the $11 million system, according to Marty Ralph, a NOAA research meteorologist. There are four types of sensors that will, in real time, measure the wind, moisture in the air and soil saturation, and whether precipitation falling at higher elevations is rain or snow.

Michael Dettinger, a research hydrologist for the U.S. Geological Survey, said that when a heavy storm drops rain across a large flood plain that has already been saturated, the risk for flooding increases.

The new tools are intended to track storms over land, especially for atmospheric river systems such as the three that have hit the region since Nov. 28 and the one forecast to drop more rain on the region today and Wednesday.

Atmospheric rivers, which transport water vapor in the atmosphere, are important for the West Coast since just a few of the storms account for nearly half of the region’s annual rainfall, according to the NOAA. Most storms here are weak, but others, like the one Sunday, can bring strong winds and heavy rainfall, said Kevin Baker, a Bay Area forecaster for the National Weather Service.

“When you forecast, there are at least two aspects that are important to us. One is getting the weather right,” Dettinger said. “But the other aspect of the forecast is how much flooding is going to result from it.”

The flood predictions are important in helping to manage water reservoirs, releasing water from dams and warning people about flooding. Slight changes in a storm, such as when snow turns to rain at high elevations, can change flood predictions, Dettinger said.

The sensors will offer key information for decision-making, Ralph said.

The system — paid for through a state bond passed to improve water infrastructure — could be more important as global warming increases the chances that more powerful storms will hit the West Coast, Dettinger said. Several models show that large atmospheric river systems at the end of the century could carry up to double the moisture, he said.

“Global warming,” he said, noting that studies are still under way, “is likely to add in a few megastorms, if you will, of a scale that we may not have encountered historically.”

mbillings@sfexaminer.com

Bay Area NewsGovernment & PoliticsLocalNational Oceanic and Atmospheric AdministrationNOAAPolitics

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Anti-eviction demonstrators rally outside San Francisco Superior Court. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Report: Unpaid rent due to COVID-19 could be up to $32.7M per month

A new city report that attempts to quantify how much rent has… Continue reading

Music venues around The City have largely been unable to reopen due to ongoing pandemic health orders. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
SF to cut $2.5M in fees to help 300 nightlife venues

San Francisco will cut $2.5 million in fees for hundreds of entertainment… Continue reading

Supreme Court nominee Judge Amy Coney Barrett departs the U.S. Capitol on October 21, 2020 in Washington, DC. President Donald Trump nominated Barrett to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg after Ginsburg’s death. (Photo by Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images)
GOP senators confirm Amy Coney Barrett to Supreme Court in partisan vote

By Jennifer Haberkorn Los Angeles Times The Senate on Monday confirmed Judge… Continue reading

Curator Tim Burgard looks over a section of the galleries comprising “The de Young Open,” a huge, varied collection of work by Bay Area artists. (Photo courtesy Gary Sexton/Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco)
Bay Area artists jam-pack vivid ‘de Young Open’

Huge exhibition — with works for sale — showcases diversity, supports community

SF Board of Education vice president Gabriela Lopez and commissioner Alison Collins listen at a news conference condemning recent racist and social media attacks targeted at them and the two student representatives on Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Online attacks on school board members denounced by city officials

City officials on Monday condemned the targeting of school board members, both… Continue reading

Most Read