Sonoma County will hold a town hall meeting this week to discuss the dual dangers the region faces from drought and atmospheric rivers.

On hand at the Nov. 10 forum will be Jeanine Jones, drought manager for the California Department of Water Resources, and Julie Kalansky, a climate scientist from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Kalansky is an expert on atmospheric rivers, which are “rivers in the sky” made of concentrated water vapor. They can be up to 1,000 miles long and transport warm tropical water vapor through the atmosphere and then dump it on cooler climes, such as California.

It might seem incongruous that Sonoma County faces threats from both drought and flooding, but it does, the county says.

A 2019 study cited in the county’s report to the Board of Supervisors titled “Atmospheric Rivers Drive Flood Damages in Western States” published in Science says that Sonoma County experienced the highest amount of flood damage over the period of 1978 through 2017 among any county in the 11 Western U.S. states, costing the county $5.2 billion in damages over 40 years, according to the report.

Atmospheric rivers are “rivers in the sky” made of concentrated tropical water vapor. They can be hundreds of miles long and dump torrents of rain on cooler regions, such as Northern California. (Image courtesy of NOAA via Bay City News)

Recent national news reports made ominous warnings of “mega floods” in the state that will supposedly be caused by atmospheric rivers. Scholars at Scripps have determined that climate change is leading to more atmospheric rivers with greater intensity, putting California in a feast-or-famine situation between drought and deluge.

The town hall will be hosted by Supervisor David Rabbitt and will feature presentations on the state and county’s drought impacts, the effects of climate change, and the “outlook” for atmospheric rivers in Sonoma County.

The Board of Supervisors declared a local emergency in April due to the drought, with the region’s two primary water sources — Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino — at “near-historic” lows.

The first nine months of 2022 have been the second-driest in Sonoma County in 128 years, according to the county.

The virtual town hall will take place at 4 p.m. on Nov. 10. People interested in joining the event must first register online.

A version of the town hall will also be streamed on the county’s YouTube channel.

Katy St. Clair got her start in journalism by working in the classifieds department at the East Bay Express during the height of alt weeklies, then sweet talked her way into becoming staff writer, submissions editor, and music editor. She has been a columnist in the East Bay Express, SF Weekly, and the San Francisco Examiner. Starting in 2015, she begrudgingly scaled the inverted pyramid at dailies such as the Vallejo Times-Herald, The Vacaville Reporter, and the Daily Republic. She has her own independent news site and blog that covers the delightfully dysfunctional town of Vallejo, California, where she also collaborates with the investigative team at Open Vallejo. A passionate advocate for people with developmental disabilities, she serves on both the Board of the Arc of Solano and the Arc of California. She lives in Vallejo.