Consider California's Lake Oroville the poster child for climate change. Here are some photos of what the lake looked like over the past several years.
That was then, before heavy rains swept northern California. Rains heavy enough that they overwhelmed the Oroville dam, America's highest dam, with runoff so heavy that it destroyed the concrete spillway.
This lake, this reservoir, went from virtually empty to overflowing in a matter of months. Now, with another rain front expected by tomorrow, the dam is in such a precarious state that 200,000 residents downstream have been forced to evacuate their towns.
Oroville is an invaluable demonstration of infrastructure that was designed and constructed to meet the demands of a climate, the Holocene, that is no more and isn't coming back. The storms that, in a matter of months, filled a nearly empty Lake Oroville to overwhelm this massive dam are the new normal. We don't have infrastructure designed and constructed to meet this reality. Which is why this earthen dam, some 700 feet in overall height, remains in risk of failing.
This, contends Scientific American, is the "sign of emergencies to come."
“These biggest events that cause the biggest problems are the ones we are pretty sure are going to become more common,” said [UCLA climate scientist, Daniel Swain]. “We're seeing the stresses of the current climate upon our infrastructure, and seeing in some cases it's enough to cause really big problems.”
“And we know that in the future, we're going to add to those stresses at both ends of the spectrum,” he added.
Climate science shows that warming causes evaporation off the oceans and other water bodies, putting more moisture into the atmosphere, Swain said. That vapor doesn't always come down and doesn't always fall in the same place where it went up. But it can fall in torrents.
The atmospheric river, a band of warm air about 300 miles wide in the lowest 1 to 2 miles of the atmosphere and powered by strong winds, can dump enough rain that the saturated ground gives way.