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Scientists develop intensity scale for atmospheric rivers to aid disaster preparedness

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Atmospheric rivers are becoming more frequent and intense due to warmer temperatures and faster evaporation from the world’s oceans, resulting in devastating floods and landslides in California and Pakistan. To help forecasters rank the severity of these events, scientists have devised an intensity scale for atmospheric rivers that runs from AR-1 to AR-5, with AR-5 being the most intense. The scale enables meteorologists to compare atmospheric river events around the world and map out the most probable locations to help people better prepare.

The storms that hit California this winter reached AR-4, while the atmospheric river responsible for Pakistan’s devastating floods in 2022 was AR-5. Strong El Niño years are more likely to have intense atmospheric rivers, and current forecasts indicate an El Niño is likely to develop by the end of this year.

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