Northern California's coming super soaker event via the 'Pineapple Express'

UPDATE: Added this HiDef imag showing a trio of lows (commas shaped clouds) in the Gulf of Alaska and southward:

Click image to enlarge to HDTV size

There’s lots of buzz here in Northern California about a series of upcoming storms starting today and through the weekend that are expected to bring gusty winds and significant rain. So much rain in fact, that there is likely to be flooding. Some reports have my area of NorCal getting as much as 20″ of rain (~75% of the normal seasonal total). I think that is over-forecasted, but it certainly is a possibility.

I remember one similar event in the El Niño years of the 1990’s, a “March Miracle” that dropped ~17″ of rain in a  24 hour period in the mountains just east of me at a DWR weather station called “Four Trees” above the Feather River Canyon. It was such an anomaly that former California State Climatologist Jim Goodridge and I set out to see if maybe the rain gauge had a urinal attached or some other such issue. It turned out that the station was fine.

The setup of this series of storm systems in not unlike that event though, a strong, deep, Arctic low will guide the storms with its rotation right into Northern California as an “Atmospheric River” (AR) or “Pineapple Express” as we often call it.

TWC writes:

Amazingly, according to NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL), a strong AR can transport as water vapor up to 15 times the average flow of liquid water at the mouth of the Mississippi River!

Suffice to say, if an AR stalls over a particular area, significant flooding can be the result.  In fact, a study by Ralph et al. (2006) found ARs responsible for every flood of northern Calfornia’s Russian River in a 7-year period.

According to NOAA/ESRL, 30-50% of the average annual precipitation in the West Coast states typically occurs in just a few AR events. With that in mind, one such AR is poised to soak parts of the West Coast this week.

The Quantitative Precipitation Forecast (QPF) model for this event is quite striking, putting the most significant rainfall into Butte County (where I live), Tehama County, and Plumas County from about Midnight Thursday to 10AM PST Friday as seen in these two plots:

That works out to ~ 5 inches in a 12 hour period for those two hotspots in NE Butte County. This image below shows the 5 day total expected rainfall courtesy of the NOAA NWS Hydrometeorological Prediction Center.

That should place some significant strain on the Feather River and Russian River watersheds.

There’s also concern over burn areas from summer fires that may get so saturated that mud and debris flows might be issues:

NWS Sacramento has prepared a video briefing:

Note that no place does NWS say there’s any connection to climate, CO2, or global warming. But just watch, the first news report of some related event or disaster will likely prompt those political activists that want to make you believe things like this are “unprecedented” and exacerbated by “global warming” to make some connection for their purposes.

My local newspaper, the Enterprise Record has a good editorial today about preparedness and Hurricane Sandy. I especially liked this part:

Most of us live in an environment of asphalt and sturdy buildings, with nature tamed into lawns and shrubs and shade trees. Even our “natural” parks are pretty polite places. We throw the switch and the lights come on. We turn the tap, and water comes out of the faucet. Nature is distant and remembered through a romantic mist.

(Read it all here.)

Which is why when political activists like Bill McKibben try to stir up emotions over routine weather events, he is often successful at convincing the gullible that somehow, the weather has changed and turned more sinister, and that people are to blame.

That sort of “blame the witches” thinking went out with the middle ages.


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I forgot all about the “Pineapple Express”. Haven’t heard that term in a few rainy seasons. I was noticing that this storm is warmer than normal for this time of year, and a PE driven storm certainly explains it..

Jim Rose

Thanks for the heads up. Is there any significant snow pack in the Sierras yet — e.g. at Donner’s summit?


Great article Anthony-puts things in perspective.Anyone who lives with nature just outside the
door knows that it isn’t all Bambi and Thumper (and Bambi had to put up with the possibility of being venison chili or getting burned to a Deer fritter in a fire.). wife and I both have Appalachian
(and Ozark) roots. being prepared is a way of life.BTW this is a fairly typical El Nino pattern is it
One other thing the USFS used to replant with temporary grass seed when there was a big fire.
to reduce the possibility of flooding-not being done any more?


I remember the 1964 floods (the “thousand year” floods), so major flooding can happen from these type events. This doesn’t look to me like that class of event … at least I hope it doesn’t go that way 🙂 🙂 :).
For those who don’t know the history of N. Cal., there was flooding in 1955 that then gov. Brown (the elder) called the “hundred year floods”. Nine years later there were much worse floods which then gov. Reagan had to describe, hence the inflation of terms. Clearly there aren’t enough statistics to clearly describe the probability of either event.

Tom Bakewell

Gods and goddess bless the wonderful writing skills you so aptly demonstrate. Good Job!


Unsurprisingly, we’re still rerunning 1938.
(Checking these cycles is like shooting fish in a barrel. I simply googled ‘California 1938 rain’ and sure enough, a record-breaker. You don’t need theories when you’ve got cycles.)

Clouds may be moving in but the ChicoER shines.
It’s not just the individuals who need to prepare; using their own initiative! Too many local governments are so obsessed with planet saving that they are ignoring their own back yards. As a result, they can’t keep 20 inches of rain at bay in 24 hours; so there’s no hope they’ll be able to do anything about 20 feet of sea level rise in 90 years. 😉


Gotta marvel at all this rain.
In Australia the whole AGW story a few years ago was all about incessant drought. It seems to barely stop raining here since then….. and most farmers are happy about that, in spite of occasional flooding.

Les Johnson

Lets hope its doesn’t match the sysetm that parked over California for 45 days, in 1861-1862.
If it does, we will have Mckibben tring to sell a global warming sandwich, with Sandy on one side, California the other.
Ah heck, why even try. Even it just rains, its the fault of AGW.

Dario from NW Italy

Allways a good work, Anthony.
Something similar is appening here in NW Italy, with a strong vortex centered on the Ligurian Sea (Northern Thyrrenian Sea).
PS I’ve been there back in 1999, I remember Northern California as a very beautiful country; I’ve also spent a few hours in Sacramento at the Bureau of Mine and Geology…


Keep your batteries dry!

Here in Blighty, we are all excited that we have recently received 2″ of rain in some areas!

Your note about the potential for mass wasting a byproduct of forest fires is as real or perhaps even more real then the flood potential. That flood potential is increased by the lack of forest cover too. Lots of snow a higher elevations is good for skiing though.

P. Solar

polistra says:
Unsurprisingly, we’re still rerunning 1938.
(Checking these cycles is like shooting fish in a barrel. I simply googled ‘California 1938 rain’ and sure enough, a record-breaker. You don’t need theories when you’ve got cycles.)
Indeed, the first thing I thought when I saw this was “global cooling”. As the atmosphere cools it will start dumping it’s water content.
Start writing articles now debunking more claims “extreme weather” BS from weeping Bill & co.
I’m sure they’re already writing some crap blaming this on global warming before the rain has even fallen.


Wasn’t one of these atmospheric rivers going to wash LA out into the ocean?

be cause

so enjoy your weather and if others need to call it climate…what the heck


Reminds me that while I was driving through northern California on vacation in the mid 70s. I was driving down US101 after leaving Eureka when the highway took a more inland route. When coming around a curve there was suddenly a deep valley to the left. There was a sign on the right saying ‘High Water Mark’ for some floods maybe 10 years back or so. That valle’ was so deep I could barely see a small creek at the bottom. Must have been a couple 100 feet or more down to the creek. I think it was the Russian river? I grew up in western Oregon so the mountains on the west coast are familiar too me and that was no ravine, it was a deep valley. I still find it hard to believe.
I wonder if that flooding was caused by the same kind of event described here.

Jim Rose says:
November 28, 2012 at 7:48 am
Thanks for the heads up. Is there any significant snow pack in the Sierras yet — e.g. at Donner’s summit?

Here in the Fresno / Yosemite area, the expected snow level from this storm is going to be only at 7500ft elevation. It’s a warm storm for this time of year. But the warm ones normally bring more rain, and hopefully this one will add a good amount of water to the reservoirs.

Philip Peake

Bob: I have relatives in the UK, so keep up with the new there. Saw the BBC news shouting about 2″ of rain in 24 hours, checked my weather station and on the sam day, we had 2.5″ … just a normal day in the life, here in sunny Oregon.

It’s just started to rain in SW Seattle.

Box of Rocks

So how much energy will be release into space?
How much of that energy will be what could be considered more than normal?

Nah, what did I tell you?
what puzzles me a bit is that my own data set shows we have already fallen by 0.2 degrees C globally since 2000 whereas the nearest other dataset (Hadcrut 3) seems to suggest is is only 0.1
I expect a further drop of 0.3 degrees C in the next 8 years or so.


OMG ! ANOTHER Super Storm !


Thanks for the heads up. I have lived in Northern California all my life and have experienced the periodic flooding brought on by these events. During the 12/96-1/97 event, the Feather River drainage received as much as 33 inches of rain in 6 days and 42 inches in 9 days. I remember one article that stated that the cumulative water flow of all Northern California stream gauges exceeded 3 million cubic feet per second at peak flow. Thank goodness for engineers, construction workers and dams. Otherwise it would have been 1862 all over again.
See link for more information. I also remember the 1964 and 1986 floods quite well.
If this type of event occurred in the “Sandy Zone”, what would the result have been with regard to flooding. It appears from the TV feeds that the river valleys in the east tend to be flatter with less ability to transmit water to the coast. Are there any studies / articles that comment on ability to handle massive, longer term rain such as we get here?


There’s some prime Bigfoot habitat in the Trinity Mountains. Will the Greenies be mounting a rescue mission for this endangered species?

Steve C

We need some of that rain here in Texas, hope it comes this way, too.


I remember the New Year’s day flood in ’97 very well in greater Sacramento. Everyone was watching the American River, and the dang Cosumnes almost washed my neighborhood in the southern ‘burbs away.
I also remember the ’86 storms when water was coming over the top at Folsom dam for at least a few hours. I was working downtown Sacramento at the time, and when I got out of town that day to go home, I said to myself if it was still raining in the morning, I wasn’t even going to try to go downtown, because even if I got in, I might not get out again.

John F. Hultquist

I read the book indicated below, and despite some issues, the author describes, in the opening chapter, the flooding and landslides at Rio Nido, CA (60 mi. NW of San Francisco) during a storm in early Feb., 1998. The book is now available at used book stores and, if you can find a copy, will give you something to read as the rain pours from the sky.
Good Luck.
El Niño: Unlocking the Secrets of the Master Weather-Maker
J. Madeleine Nash (first published in March, 2002)


At least it will be snow above 6000′ which reduces the risk of flooding.
The NOAA WRF gives less precipitation, about 5″ to 7″ in 24h
Some nice snow maps here:


Remind your neighbors not to purchase any property insurance, as the State of California can recoup any losses from the federal government by blaming man made Climate Change. I’m waiting for a tropical storm to come up the Gulf of California and inundate Arizona so that we can finally get the federal government to underground some our overhead powerlines. It appears New York City will get their infrastructure replaced by federal tax dollars thanks to Sandy, via man made Climate Change. Isn’t this how the new economy works?

Gail Combs

Les Johnson says:
November 28, 2012 at 8:12 am
…Ah heck, why even try. Even it just rains, its the fault of AGW.
And if it is too dry it is the fault of AGW and if it is too cold it is AGW and if it snows it is AGW….
Can we blame the stupidity of politicians on AGW too?

Anthony: Must make you salivate. This is CALLED WEATHER! And being (at heart) a Weatherman…you should be having a BLAST over this.
Make a final report would you? (He he he, it would be very interesting to compare predictions, warnings and reality in a week.)


Hi Terry, Yep, the sign was from the ’64 flood. It was very impressive. All land routes were cut off for more than a month. The army had to create their own roads and temporary bridges to finally get in. It was a real challenge to get support back into the hill communities. There was an aircraft carrier offshore after a week or two, but it was longer before helicopters could fly. When they did finally reach some of the small communities they found that the local fixed wing aircraft had already gotten there (landing on a section of road).

Dave Trimble

Back in 1985 my wife and I came around that same turn. We saw the sign but had to look up to find the high water mark about 30 feet up a redwood tree. I then noticed all the trees had a brown stain up to the same level. Unbelievable! That was the 1963 Eel River flood. We were looking at moving to Ferndale, near the mouth of the Eel River and started having second thoughts.
As far as I know nothing has been done to prevent the same thing from happening again.


Hope Willis doesn’t get stranded. West Sonoma county can get some serious flooding.


For those wondering about snowpack in the West, here’s the Snotel Narrative, which I consider one of the better references to track river basins on a state-by-state basis:
So far, it appears the northern tiers of lower-48 states (WA, OR, ID, MT, WY) are getting more than their fair share of the moisture so far, while the southern tier (CA, NV, UT, CO, AZ, NM) are not getting their fair share!
Maybe we can ask the federal government to step in: Precipitation redistribution, anybody? *snort*
For a color indexed visualization of snowpack, here’s another (with last year’s being the most recent, of course):
Interesting to see how the distribution of snow varies from year to year (just click on each of the “May” buttons).


It certainly will be blamed on CAGW/CO2.
Here in the UK the usual suspects are screaming “man made climate change is here!” and the MSM, especially the BBC is more than willing to help them.
Those in the path of this storm – stay safe.


OssQss says:
November 28, 2012 at 9:04 am
Kinda on topic?
Very interesting.


a native of Mendoland I remember the ’64 rains, while the Eel River marks on 101 are impressive it is a rather narrow canyon – taking the road from Boont (Boonville) down the Navarro river watershed there are some areas where you can still see the mud on the trunks of the redwoods (most of the High Water markers have been stolen over the years) where it is the highest the valley is over a mile wide and the marks are 60′ or more above the normal river level – and the longer term cycle (geologic ages) there are sedimentary rocks that were laid down in the Pacific from periodic floods that have been twisted and now sit at 7,000′ on top of much younger formations, This is nothing new for NorCal

Rob Dawg

For those of you us who obsess over water supply:
An interactive graphic that tracks CA Reservoir Levels.

Graeme M

OssQss, that is very interesting.
I have mostly read that the average temp is 15C. Wikipedia currently lists 15C. Yet a quick Google does indeed show up references to 14C…


Dave Trimble, Ferndale survived just fine. The bridge across to Ferndale was one of the few that didn’t wash out. The flooding was exacerbated by two things. First, there used to be a lot of clear-cutting back then, meaning that in some areas there wasn’t much to hold the runoff back. Second, the rivers tend to run parallel to the coast, so that with a large storm you get rainfall over the entire watershed at the same time. Flood waters come up fast. There’s no time for warnings and no time to decide to get out.
A bit OT, but I remember as a kid spending the night in a pullout in the Big Thompson canyon in CO. My father, the next day, said that he couldn’t sleep for listening to the creek to see if it was rising. A couple of years later, a storm sat over the upper basin. The resulting rain overwhelmed the dam near Estes Park and a number of people in the canyon didn’t make it. Some were never found. The thought of being in a narrow canyon when the water’s rising is beyond scary.
In the ’64 flood, all rivers north of S.F into western Oregon were like that.

more soylent green!

OssQss says:
November 28, 2012 at 9:04 am
Kinda on topic?

You beat me to this. For those who haven’t read the linked article, it seems Hanson switch from 15 degrees C as his baseline to 14 degrees, but didn’t tell anybody about it. It’s easy to artificially produce warming in the the temp records if you move the baseline down a degree or two.


Dave Trimble says: “As far as I know nothing has been done to prevent the same thing from happening again.”
What would you propose be done, Dave? This is the human mental fallacy that comes up over and over. That we can ‘do’ something about overwhelming forces of nature. Nothing can be done when it rains enough to send the river to 750,000 cubic feet per second as it did in 1964. That flow is enough to fill Lake Shasta, the largest reservoir in California, from dead empty to the top in just about 70 hours.
So what would you propose should be done? I would propose nothing. It is often the answer, we are just not prone to accept it.


Videodrone says:
Have you been partaking of the crop known locally as Mendocino Gold (or Green)? The Navarro River is less than 30 miles long with a watershed of +/- 315 sq miles. The Eel is over 300 miles long with a watershed of over 3,800 sq miles. The river valley of the Eel below the forks is quite wide with gently sloping sides. The width of the river at high water, near Ferndale was in excess of one mile.
We need to read the history folks. The flood on your creek was not the biggest in the world.

kbray in california

I’m currently in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The main rain just finished coming through here.
Brief heavy rain and a couple of gusts, now light rain.
This is residual “Sandy Superstorm Hype” judging by what just came through.
It didn’t even qualify as a “storm” in my book, just rain.
I won’t be surprised to hear about something “unprecedented” about this weather in the local lefty news.
Butte County looks to be getting a good wetting. But like here, it might not last very long.


Get out the snorkels.
(FEMA might just see fit to order in 100 trainloads of Brawny paper towels. Your tax dollars at work.)

Ironic Take

for a real California flood, google the 1861-1862 floods