Wrong, Washington Post – History and Data Contradict Claims of Worsening ‘Atmospheric Rivers’

On January 12, 2023, The Washington Post (WaPo) published a story by writer Kasha Patel with the headline, How climate change will make atmospheric rivers even worse. In the story Patel claimed, “Atmospheric rivers are projected to become wetter, larger and more damaging as temperatures rise.” Headline-wise, nothing could be further from the truth. Historical and current real-world data provide no evidence that climate change has made atmospheric rivers more frequent or severe, nor do they provide a causal connection indicating why it should do so.

This first claim is supposedly heavier rainfall. WaPo says:

Perhaps one of the most well-understood aspects of climate change is its effect on rain. In a warmer atmosphere, evaporation rates increase and transform more liquid water molecules to a vapor state in the air. In fact, the atmosphere can hold about 7 percent more water for every 1-degree Celsius (1.8-degree Fahrenheit) increase. This moisture-laden air can drop heavier amounts of rainfall at one time, increasing the intensity of rain events.

Earth’s atmosphere has warmed about 1.3 degrees Celsius (2.3 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times, and researchers have already observed heavier rain in stormshurricanesdaily precipitation — and now in atmospheric rivers.

While it is true that warmer air holds more moisture, WaPo’s claims about storms, hurricanes and daily precipitation being worse are completely false.

Chapter 11, Weather and Climate Extreme Events in a Changing Climate, of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) AR6 report, concludes that changes in the frequency and intensity of most severe weather events have not been detected nor can any changes be attributed to human caused climate change.

Regarding storms that depend on the global atmospheric water cycle, real world data shows that there has been no increase no increase in flooding; no increase in tropical cyclones and hurricanes; no increase in winter storms; and no increase in thunderstorms or tornadoes, or associated hail, lightning, and extreme winds from thunderstorms.

Further, a peer-reviewed paper published in 2020 used satellite and sounding data and found there has been no trend influencing tropical lower stratospheric water vapor, in the region these west coast atmospheric rivers originate.

Even more powerful than that, a data analysis of global relative humidity data over the land and oceans (where atmospheric rivers originate) and publicly available from the UK Met Office, shows relative humidity actually declining.

Having swung and missed badly on its claims that severe weather is getting worse, WaPo then absurdly claims there will be less snow, while falsely claiming atmospheric rivers will be worse:

Atmospheric rivers play a critical role in supplying mountain snowpack, which serves as an important source of freshwater as it melts in the spring and summer. Some research shows the weather systems provide about a quarter of the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada. Yet as temperatures rise, snowfall is decreasing.

Studies have already shown atmospheric rivers are delivering less snow in the northern Sierra Nevada, instead falling as rain because of Earth’s excess warmth.

This is false. The most recent series of atmospheric rivers from December 2022 into January 2023 have delivered massive amounts of snow to California.

According to the California Department of Water Resources, the snowpack in the Central and Southern Sierra regions is currently more than 200 percent above average for this date and 76% of the April 1 average, when it typically reaches its peak.

The UC Berkeley Central Sierra Snow Lab shared a map (see figure 2 below) that showed that as of January 12th, the snowpack in California was doing very well, saying, “Looking at the state as a whole, we are now 104% of our April 1 average according to @CA_DWR!”

Patel also fails to mention California’s history related to flooding from atmospheric rivers, yet paleoclimate history rebukes her claims even more powerfully than contemporary data.

California has always been prone to atmospheric river related severe weather events. From late 1861 into January 1862, the largest-ever atmospheric river event hit the west coast.

Known as the Great Flood of 1862, it was the largest in California’s recorded history. Weeks of continuous rains and snows in high elevations began November 1861 and continued into January 1862. This was followed by a record amount of rain from January 9 to 12. The atmospheric river event dumped an equivalent of 10 feet of water on California, combining rain and snow, over 43 days.

At the end, a warm intense storm melted the heavy snow load, causing flooding throughout the Sacramento valley, including Sacramento itself, see the Figure 3 lithograph. The capital was moved to San Francisco, the state was bankrupted, and government workers received no pay for nearly a year. Much of California’s Central Valley became a lake — 300 miles long; up to 40 miles wide.

Geologists at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have drilled to get core samples in San Francisco Bay and in lake and marsh sediments throughout California. They positively identified the stream gravels deposited by the Great Flood of 1862. They also discovered that similar and even more devastating flooding occurred in AD 212, 440, 603, 1029, 1418, and 1605 — roughly every 200 years.

In that publication, the USGS said research on past atmospheric river events has found: “The geologic record shows 6 megastorms more severe than 1861-1862 in California in the last 1800 years, and there is no reason to believe similar events won’t occur again.”

The question that WaPo won’t answer is – how did all these stronger storms happen before so-called modern man-made climate change?

The answer is – WaPo and much of climate science today is overly reliant on projections from computer models rather than looking at trends in historical and real-world data.

As computer models projections of temperatures show, climate models are too unreliable to based predictions on. Unfortunately, rather than doing some independent research and fact checking, putting the “investigation” into investigative journalism, writers like Patel, and mainstream media outlets like WaPo, continue to support the thoroughly refuted but widely promoted narrative that climate change is making weather worse. Shame on them for stubbornly clinging to a false narrative in order to promote fear.

Anthony Watts

Anthony Watts is a senior fellow for environment and climate at The Heartland Institute. Watts has been in the weather business both in front of, and behind the camera as an on-air television meteorologist since 1978, and currently does daily radio forecasts. He has created weather graphics presentation systems for television, specialized weather instrumentation, as well as co-authored peer-reviewed papers on climate issues. He operates the most viewed website in the world on climate, the award-winning website wattsupwiththat.com.

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Bryan A
January 19, 2023 6:23 am

WaPo is famous for Climate P®rn or Climate DuJour articles.
California was soaked by a series of storms connected to atmospheric rivers so now a Climate DuJour article about how CC will increase Atmospheric River events.

Reply to  Bryan A
January 19, 2023 7:04 am

The oceans are boiling dontcha know.

Reply to  Scissor
January 19, 2023 7:19 am

Is that an Apple watch on Al? I just voted against Al for election to the Apple board. Al, let those climate refugees in to your mansions….you have plenty of room.

Last edited 4 months ago by antigtiff
Citizen Smith
Reply to  antigtiff
January 19, 2023 7:53 am

I think Alger is beginning to believe himself.

Joe Crawford
Reply to  Citizen Smith
January 19, 2023 8:13 am

Sounds like he’s only one step behind Biden in mental acuity :<)

Bryan A
Reply to  Joe Crawford
January 19, 2023 10:43 pm

Like A.I. (AI) Al is only artificially intelligent…at least he is Modeled that way

Last edited 4 months ago by Bryan A
Reply to  antigtiff
January 19, 2023 8:04 am

Maybe it helps him keep track of a favorite show on Apple TV, “Happy Endings.”

Last edited 4 months ago by Scissor
Gunga Din
Reply to  Scissor
January 19, 2023 3:30 pm

It seems like if the oceans were “boiling” then that might be the answer to the sea level rising.

Reply to  Bryan A
January 20, 2023 5:33 am

C’mon folks. Its WAPO. Might as well be the National Enquirer or something.
Just sayin’.

January 19, 2023 6:27 am

Seems to me the Bandar-log are getting ever more shrill. I wonder if it is slowly dawning on them that the hoi polloi are not taking any notice of them any more and they are beginning to wonder how to keep the attention of the Politicos, some of whom might be starting to think that the doom merchants are not correct in their pontificating.

David Dibbell
January 19, 2023 6:28 am

Good article, Anthony Watts! The history clearly contradicts the fashionable claims.

And this, from the WaPo quote:
 “In fact, the atmosphere can hold about 7 percent more water for every 1-degree Celsius (1.8-degree Fahrenheit) increase. This moisture-laden air can drop heavier amounts of rainfall at one time, increasing the intensity of rain events.”

This oft-repeated characteristic of air and water vapor should help us appreciate the high performance of the atmosphere as the working fluid of its own heat engine operation. It’s a steam engine. And the end result is that heat energy cannot be made to accumulate on land and in the oceans to harmful effect by what the non-condensing GHGs do in the atmosphere.

All the more reason to flip the script and emphasize the highly self-regulating power of the atmosphere to transport heat from low to high altitude and from the tropics to the poles.

Steve Case
January 19, 2023 6:29 am

97%* of “Climate Change” claims have either happened before (CA flood of 1862), have been happening right along (sea level rise) or are outright lies.

OK, I made up the 97% (-:

Curious George
Reply to  Steve Case
January 19, 2023 9:24 am

Climate change was vey severe in 1862. It is incontrovertible.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Curious George
January 19, 2023 6:59 pm

Oy vey?

January 19, 2023 7:07 am

Yeah, but it’s really bad when an atmospheric river is accompanied by a rain bomb…a Gore rain bomb….Oh!, the humanity!

January 19, 2023 7:12 am

So, this is their new bridgehead on people’s sanity; the scary atmospheric river – don’t look up.

“Atmospheric rivers are projected to become wetter, larger…”

That seems a Griffian claim. Water is not itself wet, but can make other solid materials wet. Wetness is the ability of a liquid to adhere to the surface of a solid. 

Last edited 4 months ago by strativarius
Paul B
January 19, 2023 7:27 am

‘More’ rain would be the result of more condensation. More condensation means more latent heat of evaporation has been transported high into the atmosphere where it is more readily radiated away when the vapor is condensed into water. ‘More’ rain means more cooling.

Bob Weber
January 19, 2023 7:43 am

“…a data analysis of global relative humidity data over the land and oceans (where atmospheric rivers originate) and publicly available from the UK Met Office, shows relative humidity actually declining.”

Relative humidity has declined from declining solar activity since the 1980s. The atmospheric rivers today herald a time of change for several years to come. What’s happening now is a return to higher solar activity conditions from solar cycle #25, now driving higher precipitation.

The period of 1858-1861 averaged 155 v2 SN; the sunspot average for December 2022 was 113, and for this month, 215 so far, meaning both instances occurred when the sun’s TSI was operating in it’s higher range, when sunspot activity was above the decadal sun-ocean warming threshold I established in 2014 (above 95 SN).

The atmospheric rivers will help refill reservoirs such as Lake Mead. Last summer I used as an example here at WUWT the MSL plot below, after my AGU Frontiers in Hydrology presentation, regarding droughts or deluges dependent on solar activity levels. Lake Mead MSL has a 104.8 dry/wet SN threshold, which fits in with other precipitation threshold values in the second panel. *CDA= Cumulative Departure from Average

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Drought is breaking due to the changeover from low solar activity driven La Nina to the next state to be brought on by higher solar activity, where higher TSI is now driving growth in tropical warm areas, creating a Kelvin wave that will eventually source the next El Nino and warming. Strong sub-solar TSI is currently warming the southern ocean and eroding the cold tongue.

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Last edited 4 months ago by Bob Weber
Bob Weber
Reply to  Bob Weber
January 19, 2023 8:01 am

Correction: this month’s SN average is 154, instead of 215, which was today’s SN for an hour. Sorry. The point being SN is as high recently as preceding the 1861/62 atmospheric river event.

January 19, 2023 7:46 am

Atmospheric water vapor data going back decades is available from US NOAA as well as British organs. The US data is conveniently found at the climate4you.com website and shows that specific and relative humidity at all altitudes in our atmosphere have all been declining for many decades except for specific humidity near the surface which shows a slight increase. These data do not support Ms. Patel’s thesis, but her speciality is “Science Journalism” which is a trained ability to write convincing articles, not correct articles necessarily, but convincing articles always. It is a pity that she and so so many of her journalist colleagues have apparently not been trained in the scientific method which requires scepticism at every stage, not just convincing arguments at the end. I believe this is a primary reason that there is so much climate hysteria all about – countless well written but entirely wrong articles by ignorant journalists who have not taken the time, or perhaps are unable, to critically assess the issue they are “reporting.”

Janice Moore
Reply to  Denis
January 19, 2023 10:07 am

Science Journalism
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Janice Moore
Reply to  Janice Moore
January 20, 2023 1:32 pm

Edit: add quote marks, to get “Science Journalism.” That is, there IS honest, accurate, science journalism.

Reply to  Janice Moore
January 20, 2023 7:58 pm

That is, once upon a time, there was honest, accurate science journalism. Not any more.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Denis
January 19, 2023 7:04 pm

… except for specific humidity near the surface which shows a slight increase.

Combustion releases water, cooling towers release water, and reservoirs extend the time that water on land is exposed for evaporation.

Mr Ed
January 19, 2023 8:02 am

Nicely done Mr Watts, thank you. A google of Kasha Patel reveals her work
focus’s on comedy and climate change…hmmm. comedy with a “climate change focus”.
Perhaps she could log on here and humor us some…

Janice Moore
Reply to  Mr Ed
January 19, 2023 10:10 am

Apparently, this was one of her comedy pieces. @ Patel: ADD A /SARC TAG (or several) or no one is going to get it.

January 19, 2023 8:10 am

What a pleasant experience, sitting on the bank of the atmospheric river, watching something or other drift by. Requires a rain coat, though.

January 19, 2023 9:07 am

Media mogul journalism looks a lot like automated bot writing with key word and current event matching. Climate change is the perfect unchecked platform.

Dennis Gerald Sandberg
January 19, 2023 9:10 am

Before everyone goes crazy and starts screaming global warming induced climate change from burning “fossil fuels”, here’s some data from Central Coast Paso Robles, CA dating back to 1942/43 (average rainfall 14 inches).

1968/69 total rainfall: 31.25 inches including 13.93 inches in January and 9.12 inches in February.

1997/98 total rainfall: 27.09 including 9.06 inches in February
Going back to 1968/69 with two back to back months totally more than 23 inches happened, if it happens again in 2022/23 it won’t be “unprecedented”, and even if it’s a few percentage greater, it’s not “proof of catastrophic anthropogenic existential threatening climate change”
Today, Thursday, January 19, 2023 we had a sprinkle of rain and the forecast for the rest of the month is partly cloudy to sunny, with no rain forecast. Rain total for January, 2023: 10.34 inches. What does it look like? Little less than 1968/69, little more than 1997/98. Yawn.

January 19, 2023 9:12 am

From WSJ

Almost out of the blue, it has become popular to use artificial intelligence to generate bedtime stories, love letters, high-school essays, even mental-health guidance (not to mention award-winning artwork). Many people aren’t comfortable with bot-created content and may feel tricked.
Researchers and other programmers have taken it upon themselves to build tools to help people figure out what has sprung from the mind of a human, and what was cobbled together by a bot. But in a period of rapid advancement such as this, any tool can have a hard time keeping up.

(add climate change key word matching nonsense to the list of fake content)

Reply to  ResourceGuy
January 19, 2023 11:15 am

Bot-created content is flooding the Internet. It usually reads worse than an instruction manual for a product made in China. It is getting harder to find human authored reviews of consumer products, to the point that it is hardly worth the effort any longer.

Ireneusz Palmowski
January 19, 2023 9:49 am

The accumulation is just 14 inches away from the total seasonal average of 360 inches, and officials at the Snow Lab say that could be surpassed after a moderate storm moves through the Sierra Wednesday night into Thursday.

Accumulated totals from the lab show that this years snowfall is well above the 30-year seasonal average for this time of year.

Were seeing absolutely astronomical numbers for snowfall this year, said Andrew Schwartz, lead scientist at the lab.

But its not hyper-locally concentrated like last year when the Central Sierra got an abundance of snow in December but the Southern Sierra didnt. This year, the wealth of snow has spread out around the state, including the mountains of Southern California.


John Hultquist
Reply to  Ireneusz Palmowski
January 19, 2023 10:04 am

 I believe the above average snow depth continues into Oregon, Washington and into B.C.
It is this time of the month when Pete Parsons of Oregon provides his Seasonal Climate Forecast with a new map for Oregon.
Seasonal Climate Forecast: January-March 2023 (oregon.gov)

Reply to  Ireneusz Palmowski
January 19, 2023 11:18 am

In a desert to semi-desert state, shouldn’t abundant precipitation be a good thing? (Provided that planners have understood this and built systems in advance to mitigate the damaging effects)

Reply to  pflashgordon
January 20, 2023 8:01 pm

Yeah, but this is California we’re talking about, so no they wouldn’t have done that. They’re too busy saving the world to prepare for normal weather events.

John Hultquist
January 19, 2023 9:58 am

What am I doing wrong?
The 2 links to USGS go to an ARkStorm summary page where is mentioned:
 The geologic record shows 6 megastorms more severe than 1861-1862 …”

However, I don’t find the dates [AD 212, 440, 603, 1029, 1418, and 1605] there.
My brain fog ?, or a missing link?

Otherwise, nicely done. 👍
I hope Ms. Kasha will read this.

Reply to  John Hultquist
January 19, 2023 11:31 am

You have to click on the publications tab, then the single publication and view document to get the full PDF at this link:


page 20 has the years

John Hultquist
Reply to  climatebeagle
January 19, 2023 3:30 pm

🧑‍🎄 👍

Ireneusz Palmowski
January 19, 2023 10:03 am

La Niña is sure to reach spring. The Nino 3.4 index remains stable at around -1 degree C.
An increase in solar activity will result in a stronger La Niña, as it will increase the energy of the jet wind.
Jumps in solar activity in this solar cycle cause spikes in SOI. Now the SOI will increase again.
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Ireneusz Palmowski
January 19, 2023 10:14 am

There will now be a break in precipitation in California with falling temperatures.
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Peta of Newark
January 19, 2023 10:25 am

How do you unravel that garbage?
1/ Warmer climate causes more evaporation
OK, But it takes energy to evaporate the water – which cancels out your warming.
You can not use the same energy twice – it evaporates water or heats the air. Not both (##)

2/ Warmer air can hold more water
OK again, but if the air is ‘holding it’ then it’s not raining is it. It only rains when the air stops holding the water.
You can not use the same water twice. It’s either held in the air or falling as rain. Not both

## You wanna be extra careful on that claim as well. The extra water vapour will hugely increase the emissivity of the atmosphere and if you want hot hot hot, you do everything you can to reduce emissivity, not increase it.

January 19, 2023 11:10 am

Weather amnesia.

January 19, 2023 11:21 am

This is nothing new. CA has a long history of drought/wildfire followed by monsoon/mudslides.

Johnny Carson (remember him?) once joked that California was the only place you could get a speeding ticket on the freeway while sitting in your living room.

Randle Dewees
January 19, 2023 12:23 pm

Hi Everyone, I finally got logged in.
I have a cabin up in the South Sierra, 6400′ elevation. This part of the Sierra is more a plateau than the typical tilted block configuration further north. Unfortunately for the area I’m in that means most of the rain and snow is to the west of us. This year, however, has been pretty impressive – about 10″ of precipitation since November. That’s about 2X the yearly average. We have been shoe shoeing right out the back door, usually we drive up as high as high as the roads are plowed for that. The only thing I don’t like it is all the snow shoveling.

Randle Dewees
Reply to  Randle Dewees
January 19, 2023 3:28 pm

Wow! A lot of typos. Snow Shoeing!

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Randle Dewees
January 19, 2023 7:10 pm

You had to spoil it for me! I read it right the first time. 🙂

Ed Reid
January 19, 2023 12:52 pm

How climate change will make atmospheric rivers even worse.”

The headline is more certain about atmospheric rivers than the quote which follows:“Atmospheric rivers are projected to become wetter, larger and more damaging as temperatures rise.”

You’d think all climate change projections were absolutely reliable.

Reply to  Ed Reid
January 20, 2023 8:05 pm

You notice how they use the pseudo-scientific word projected because it looks like they analyzed some sort of data. If they just said predicted, we’d ask how they came up with that prediction.

January 19, 2023 12:59 pm

Climate change cannot make storms more intense. Storms are weather. Climate is defined as 30 years of average weather. Weather makes climate change not the other way around. Anyone who says otherwise is using circular reasoning which as we all know since Socrates is a logical fallacy. There is cause and then there is effect. The future cannot cause the past.

Ireneusz Palmowski
January 19, 2023 1:31 pm

There has been a sudden warming in the upper stratosphere and a weakening of the polar vortex. It promises to be an interesting continuation of winter in the northern hemisphere.
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Gunga Din
January 19, 2023 3:22 pm

If I’m not mistaken, all these “Atmospheric Rivers” happened often enough and long enough to be given a name long before the “CAGW” meme reared its ugly head. (Maybe even before The Goracle was born?)
The Pineapple Express.
What will they rename to make it sound like something “new”?
The Pineapple Expressest”?

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Gunga Din
January 19, 2023 7:12 pm

Pineapple Expreso

Gunga Din
January 19, 2023 3:32 pm

More rain. Less desert. How is that “bad”? It’d be a “change”?

Robert B
January 19, 2023 10:37 pm

“In fact, the atmosphere can hold about 7 percent more water for every 1-degree Celsius (1.8-degree Fahrenheit) increase”

The water evaporates in tropical waters with clear skies and that less than 100% relative humid air rises kms and cools until clouds form at 100% humidity. Cooling even more leads to a lot of water condensing. But the Clausius–Clapeyron equation is not an explanation of how the air sucks more water from the sea surface into the atmosphere when it’s well below 100% humidity. It doesn’t get to 100% humidity until it cools sufficiently, and cools less because of global warming. It so is not a straight forward explanation for why global warming makes things worse.

January 20, 2023 5:31 am

“Models”? Yeah, okay, sure. We’ll see. So far as I have been able to tell, the “models” don’t seem to be very accurate predicting anything “climate” related, except an increase in the bank accounts of those using them to trumpet the ills of the evil “fossil fuels”, etc. That is what I think we would find if we could see the bank accounts of those using models to spout their nonsense.
Just sayin’.

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