NASA’s Before and After Satellite Images Show California Flooding

NASA satellites have caught the amount of flooding in California following three powerful atmospheric river storms.

The photographs show California on January 15, before the major storms came, and again on February 4, after the first round of storms hit the state.

These early February storms came in fast succession, delivering incredibly powerful gusts and record-breaking rainfall.

The storms were atmospheric rivers, which are long, narrow weather systems that form over the tropics and release massive amounts of water vapor as rain and snow as they travel across land.

According to National Weather Service data, parts of Los Angeles County received over 13 inches of rain in the four days preceding February 6, with more than 7 inches falling on February 5 and 6, soaking the ground and causing flash flooding throughout the city.

Typically, LA receives only about 3.64 inches of rain throughout February, with the city receiving about 14.25 inches per year.

NASA's Before and After Satellite Images Show California Flooding

Satellite photographs illustrate the extent of flooding in Mendocino County, Northern California, approximately 100 miles north of San Francisco.

Higher water levels relative to sea level are depicted in lighter tones in the photos, illustrating the intensity of flooding. Each pixel in the image covers an area of 330 feet by 330 feet.

The photographs were obtained by NASA’s Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) project, a collaboration with the French space agency CNES (Centre National d’Études Spatiales).

SWOT has been tracking water levels all across the planet since late 2022, giving researchers a very precise picture of how river and lake levels are changing.

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It measures these water levels with a Ka-band Radar Interferometer, which employs two antennae 33 feet apart to bounce radar off water surfaces and estimate their height.

“SWOT gives us information about flooding that we’ve never had before,” says Ben Hamlington, head researcher for NASA’s sea level change team at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “Data from the SWOT satellite, combined with other information, is filling in this picture.”

In the weeks following the February 4 photograph, numerous more major atmospheric rivers swamped California with wind and rain, triggering extensive flooding and mudslides.

Since October, San Diego, Los Angeles, and Riverside have all received more rain than a year’s worth, with Los Angeles getting 18.2 inches, San Diego getting 9.82 inches, and Riverside getting 9.68 inches. On average, these cities receive 14 inches, 9.79 inches, and 9.37 inches of rain per year.

“Ever wonder how much rain falls in your area each year? San Diego and Riverside have seen their annual average rainfall since the start of the water year on October 1st,” the National Weather Service (NWS) office in San Diego wrote on X, formerly Twitter, on Sunday.

Another storm is headed for California later this week.

“Ready for more rain? Maybe not but precipitation is expected with a new Pacific storm Wednesday afternoon through Thursday,” NWS San Diego reported on Monday.

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