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Erasing drought: How an atmospheric river wiped out months worth of drought

The weather pattern has brought more than a foot of rain to California since the start of 2023 with more on the way.

MOLINE, Ill. — From begging for rain to begging for it to stop, that's exactly the kind of wild weather pattern the west coast of the United States has been experiencing so far in 2023.

An atmospheric river, known as the "Pineapple Express," gets its nickname from where the moisture originates, the tropical Pacific. This river of moisture can reach impressive levels and also unleash a barrage of storm systems, dropping both heavy rain and snow. 

The setup includes a strong area of high pressure off the coast of Baja California. There is also a strong area of low pressure off the Pacific Northwest coast of the U.S. Both of these features draw a narrow ribbon of intense moisture eastward. 

Credit: WQAD

These atmospheric rivers can vary in strength. In fact, many of them are weak, providing gentle, beneficial rainfall. It just so happens that many of these events so far in 2023 have been much stronger, pounding areas, especially like California with extremely heavy rainfall. 

Credit: WQAD

Check out this incredible statistic when looking at the yearly rainfall totals so far for 2023. San Francisco, California has already surpassed Seattle, Washington in terms of observed rainfall. Nearly double, in fact! 

You'll likely recall that we've been talking about extreme, widespread drought impacting much of the southwest U.S. in the last couple of years. Thanks to this recent wet pattern, some big improvement is being seen, with some areas of California now officially drought-free. Remarkable considering how long these same areas have been without any moisture of significance for months on end, as recently as last year!  

The long-term forecast doesn't hold much promise in terms of relief from this atmospheric river. Another barrage of moisture and storms is expected to drench parts of California with more than half a foot of rain in some spots, and in the mountainous regions, more than a foot of snow. 

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