The Energy Show · What’s an Atmospheric River.. and Why Should I Care

According to Wikipedia — which has supplanted the Oxford English Dictionary and Encyclopedia Brittanica as the world’s definitive source of information — an Atmospheric River consists of narrow bands of enhanced water vapor winds that form over the oceans.

In plain English, Atmospheric Rivers are windy rainstorms that dump a huge amount of water in a relatively short time. They account for about 50% of annual precipitation – so these storms are critical to reducing California’s current drought conditions.

Since our crews work on rooftops, we’re very concerned about rooftop safety. As a result we always look at forecasts when planning rooftop work for our customers. This morning I noted that significant rain is projected for eight of the next nine days. In over 22 years of installing solar in Silicon Valley I have never seen such a severe and extended series of storms.

The National Weather Service is predicting that this next atmospheric river storm will be as bad or worse than the recent New Year’s Eve deluge. You can look at the detailed forecast yourself. Suffice it to say that wind gusts will be in the 35-55 mph range, with rainfall estimates ranging from 2 to 10 inches.

With storms like this one — especially when the ground is soggy — it’s reasonable to expect many power failures due to downed electric lines and flooded underground wiring. Storm drains will clog, leading to widespread street flooding. And some local creeks are already at flood stage.

But there is some good news. Reservoirs and aquifers are filling up, reducing drought conditions. Sierra snowpack is growing, so there should be more water available for summer hydroelectricity — and the skiing is terrific. Your rooftop solar panels are getting cleaned from these downpours.

If you have a solar-powered battery backup system, please take note of two features available on most systems. First, we recommend that you increase your minimum battery reserve to 50%. Second, enable the Weather Guard or Storm Preparation feature on your system, which will automatically keep your battery at 100% state of charge if there is an imminent bad weather event or PSPS.

To learn more about these crazy atmospheric river storms and how solar and battery storage can keep your lights on, fridge cold and family connected, listen to The Energy Show.