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Public works employee cleaning clogged storm drain in San Francisco. A San Francisco Public Works employee works to unclog a drain in San Francisco, Calif. on Dec. 11, 2014. San Francisco was reeling under a Pacific storm that flooded transit stations, grounded flights and left more than 90,000 people without power. (Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)

Meteorologists nationwide — the National Weather Service, California Department of Water Resources, U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — have decided to begin rating atmospheric rivers (AR), storms that have the potential for millions of dollars in losses and severe flooding. But what exactly is an atmospheric river? It’s a long, narrow river of condensed water vapor in the atmosphere that moves with the weather.

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