California Flood Science

Science Center Objects

To help emergency managers and others protect life and property due to floods and other water-related hazards, the USGS delivers a continuous source of streamflow information. The USGS California Water Science Center maintains nearly 500 streamgages that collect data to determine the amount of water flowing in rivers and streams in California. Automatic alerts are transmitted when water levels change rapidly and/or reach flood stage. These alerts help emergency managers assess potential hazardous conditions near the gage or for downstream locations.

USGS WaterNow is a service that sends data showing current water conditions directly to your mobile phone upon your request.

USGS WaterAlert automatically sends email or SMS text messages when certain parameters, as measured by a USGS real-time data-collection station, exceed user-defined thresholds.

a picture of a flooded road in San Diego, CA

Sections of Fashion Valley Road, San Diego, were closed by flooding of the San Diego River. Closed roads were a common scene in San Diego and throughout California during the El Niño-related storms Jan. 6-7, 2016. Hydrographers from the Poway Field Officers closely monitored high-flow conditions throughout the storms. (USGS photo by Dianna Crilley) (Public domain.)

Atmospheric Rivers (AR’s)

Atmospheric rivers are long, narrow corridors moving through the atmosphere where water vapor is transported at high rates. These AR’s move moisture from the tropics in the Pacific over to the western coast of the United States. AR’s are responsible for great quantities of rain and have been identified to have a significant role in generating flooding across the western United States. They can also fuel strong winter storms that contribute to beneficial increases in snowpack.

Fall and Winter Weather: El Niño

El Niño is a naturally occurring event characterized by unusually warm ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific. El Niño has come to refer to a whole complex of Pacific Ocean sea-surface temperature changes and global weather events. If El Niño conditions are present during the winter, the jet stream pattern over the U.S. shifts and can result in a wetter-than-average winter across the southern tier of the U.S., including portions of California.

On October 11, 2018, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Prediction Center issued an El Niño watch for the Northern Hemisphere. All four Niño values increased over the last month indicating a developing El Niño. El Niño is favored to form in the next couple of months and continue through the Northern Hemisphere winter 2018-19 (70-75% chance; click CPC/IRI consensus forecast for the chance of each outcome for each 3-month period). Typical El Niño patterns in California include increased rainfall with the potential for accompanying floods, landslides, and coastal erosion. The effects are variable across the state and are more predictable in Southern California. For fall and winter 2018, NOAA’s temperature outlook suggests warmer than normal climate patterns and normal to wetter than normal precipitation patterns in California.