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2018
Viale, M, Valenzuela R, Garreaud RD, Ralph FM.  2018.  Impacts of atmospheric rivers on precipitation in southern South America. Journal of Hydrometeorology. 19:1671-1687.   10.1175/jhm-d-18-0006.1   AbstractWebsite

This study quantifies the impact of atmospheric rivers (ARs) on precipitation in southern South America. An AR detection algorithm was developed based on integrated water vapor transport (IVT) from 6-hourly CFSR reanalysis data over a 16-yr period (2001-16). AR landfalls were linked to precipitation using a comprehensive observing network that spanned large variations in terrain along and across the Andes from 27 degrees to 55 degrees S, including some sites with hourly data. Along the Pacific (west) coast, AR landfalls are most frequent between 38 degrees and 50 degrees S, averaging 35-40 days yr(-1). This decreases rapidly to the south and north of this maximum, as well as to the east of the Andes. Landfalling ARs are more frequent in winter/spring (summer/fall) to the north (south) of similar to 43 degrees S. ARs contribute 45%-60% of the annual precipitation in subtropical Chile (37 degrees-32 degrees S) and 40%-55% along the midlatitude west coast (37 degrees-47 degrees S). These values significantly exceed those in western North America, likely due to the Andes being taller. In subtropical and midlatitude regions, roughly half of all events with top-quartile precipitation rates occur under AR conditions. Median daily and hourly precipitation in ARs is 2-3 times that of other storms. The results of this study extend knowledge of the key roles of ARs on precipitation, weather, and climate in the South American region. They enable comparisons with other areas globally, provide context for specific events, and support local nowcasting and forecasting.

Dettinger, MD, Ralph FM, Rutz JJ.  2018.  Empirical return periods of the most intense vapor transports during historical atmospheric river landfalls on the US West Coast. Journal of Hydrometeorology. 19:1363-1377.   10.1175/jhm-d-17-0247.1   AbstractWebsite

Atmospheric rivers (ARs) come in all intensities, and clear communication of risks posed by individual storms in observations and forecasts can be a challenge. Modest ARs can be characterized by the percentile rank of their integrated water vapor transport (IVT) rates compared to past ARs. Stronger ARs can be categorized more clearly in terms of return periods or, equivalently, historical probabilities that at least one AR will exceed a given IVT threshold in any given year. Based on a 1980-2016 chronology of AR landfalls on the U.S. West Coast from NASA's Modern-Era Retrospective Analysis for Research and Applications, version 2 (MERRA-2), datasets, the largest instantaneous IVTsgreater than 1700 kg m(-1) s(-1)have occurred in ARs making landfall between 41 degrees and 46 degrees N with return periods longer than 20 years. IVT values with similar return periods are smaller to the north and, especially, to the south (declining to similar to 750 kg m(-1) s(-1)). The largest storm-sequence IVT totals have been centered near 42.5 degrees N, with scatter among the top few events, and these large storm-sequence totals depend more on sequence duration than on the instantaneous IVT that went into them. Maximum instantaneous IVTs are largest in the Pacific Northwest in autumn, with largest IVT values arriving farther south as winter and spring unfold, until maximum IVTs reach Northern California in spring.

Lavers, DA, Rodwell MJ, Richardson DS, Ralph FM, Doyle JD, Reynolds CA, Tallapragada V, Pappenberger F.  2018.  The gauging and modeling of rivers in the sky. Geophysical Research Letters. 45:7828-7834.   10.1029/2018gl079019   AbstractWebsite

Atmospheric rivers (ARs) are responsible for most of the horizontal water vapor flux outside of the tropics and can cause extreme precipitation and affect the atmospheric dynamics and predictability. For their impacts to be skillfully predicted, it is essential for weather forecasting systems to accurately represent AR characteristics. Using the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts Integrated Forecasting System and dropsonde observations from the 2018 AR Reconnaissance field campaign over the Northeast Pacific Ocean, it is shown that the AR structure is modeled well but that short-range water vapor flux forecasts have a root-mean-square error of 60.0 kgm(-1) s(-1) (21.9% of mean observed flux). These errors are most related to uncertainties in the winds near the top of the planetary boundary layer. The findings identify a potential barrier in the prediction of high-impact weather and suggest an area where research should be focused to improve atmospheric forecast systems. Plain Language Summary Atmospheric rivers (ARs) are responsible for most of the horizontal transport of water vapor outside of the tropics and can cause extreme precipitation and affect the atmospheric circulation. In this study, we evaluate the ability of a state-of-the-science weather forecasting system to model ARs by using unique atmospheric observations from the 2018 AR Reconnaissance field campaign. Results show that while the AR structure is modeled well, there can be large errors in the water vapor transport which are most related to uncertainties in the low-level winds. These findings identify a potential barrier in the prediction of high-impact weather.

Oakley, NS, Lancaster JT, Hatchett BJ, Stock J, Ralph FM, Roj S, Lukashov S.  2018.  A 22-year climatology of cool season hourly precipitation thresholds conducive to shallow landslides in California. Earth Interactions. 22:1-35.   10.1175/ei-d-17-0029.1   AbstractWebsite

California's winter storms produce intense rainfall capable of triggering shallow landslides, threatening lives and infrastructure. This study explores where hourly rainfall in the state meets or exceeds published values thought to trigger landslides after crossing a seasonal antecedent precipitation threshold. We answer the following questions: 1) Where in California are overthreshold events most common? 2) How are events distributed within the cool season (October-May) and interannually? 3) Are these events related to atmospheric rivers? To do this, we compile and quality control hourly precipitation data over a 22-yr period for 147 Remote Automated Weather Stations (RAWS). Stations in the Transverse and Coast Ranges and portions of the northwestern Sierra Nevada have the greatest number of rainfall events exceeding thresholds. Atmospheric rivers coincide with 60%-90% of these events. Overthreshold events tend to occur in the climatological wettest month of the year, and they commonly occur multiple times within a storm. These state-wide maps depict where to expect intense rainfalls that have historically triggered shallow landslides. They predict that some areas of California are less susceptible to storm-driven landslides solely because high-intensity rainfall is unlikely.

Martin, A, Ralph FM, Demirdjian R, DeHaan L, Weihs R, Helly J, Reynolds D, Iacobellis S.  2018.  Evaluation of atmospheric river predictions by the WRF model using aircraft and regional mesonet observations of orographic precipitation and its forcing. Journal of Hydrometeorology. 19:1097-1113.   10.1175/jhm-d-17-0098.1   AbstractWebsite

Accurate forecasts of precipitation during landfalling atmospheric rivers (ARs) are critical because ARs play a large role in water supply and flooding for many regions. In this study, we have used hundreds of observations to verify global and regional model forecasts of atmospheric rivers making landfall in Northern California and offshore in the midlatitude northeast Pacific Ocean. We have characterized forecast error and the predictability limit in AR water vapor transport, static stability, onshore precipitation, and standard atmospheric fields. Analysis is also presented that apportions the role of orographic forcing and precipitation response in driving errors in forecast precipitation after AR landfall. It is found that the global model and the higher-resolution regional model reach their predictability limit in forecasting the atmospheric state during ARs at similar lead times, and both present similar and important errors in low-level water vapor flux, moist-static stability, and precipitation. However, the relative contribution of forcing and response to the incurred precipitation error is very different in the two models. It can be demonstrated using the analysis presented herein that improving water vapor transport accuracy can significantly reduce regional model precipitation errors during ARs, while the same cannot be demonstrated for the global model.

Nash, D, Waliser D, Guan B, Ye HC, Ralph FM.  2018.  The role of atmospheric rivers in extratropical and polar hydroclimate. Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres. 123:6804-6821.   10.1029/2017jd028130   AbstractWebsite

Atmospheric rivers (ARs) are narrow, long, transient, water vapor-rich corridors of the atmosphere that are responsible for over 90% of the poleward water vapor transport in and across midlatitudes. However, the role of ARs in modulating extratropical and polar hydroclimate features (e.g., water vapor content and precipitation) has not been fully studied, even though moistening of the polar atmosphere is both a key result and amplifier of Arctic warming and sea ice melt, and precipitation is key to the surface mass balance of polar sea ice and ice sheets. This study uses the Modern-Era Retrospective analysis for Research and Applications, Version 2 reanalysis to characterize the roles of AR water vapor transport on the column-integrated atmospheric water vapor budget in the extratropical and polar regions of both hemispheres. Meridional water vapor transport by ARs across a given latitude (examined for 40 degrees, 50 degrees, 60 degrees, and 70 degrees) is strongly related to variations in area-averaged (i.e., over the cap poleward of the given latitude) total water vapor storage and precipitation poleward of that latitude. For the climatological annual cycle, both AR transport (i.e., nonlocal sources) and total evaporation (i.e., local sources) are most correlated with total precipitation, although with slightly different phases. However, for monthly anomalies, the water budget at higher latitudes is largely dominated by the relationship between AR transport and precipitation. For pentad and daily anomalies, AR transport is related to both precipitation and water vapor storage variations. These results demonstrate the important role of episodic, extreme water vapor transports by ARs in modulating extratropical and polar hydroclimate. Plain Language Summary The term atmospheric river (AR) was coined by scientists Zhu and Newell in the early 1990s with the main result highlighting the importance of relatively infrequent, long conduits of strong moisture transport being responsible for most of the poleward transport of moisture across the midlatitudes and into the polar regions. While it is generally understood that this moisture is critical to the water and energy budgets of high latitudes, there have been no studies that have ever quantified the relationship between AR poleward moisture transports and the hydroclimate features of high latitudes. After a long hiatus in the consideration of the role of ARs on global climate since those of Zhu and Newell, this study quantifies the connections between water vapor transport by ARs across specific latitudes (e.g., 40 degrees) and the hydroclimate poleward of this latitude. The findings show there are strong, time scale-dependent (e.g., daily and monthly) connections between ARs and high-latitude hydroclimate features. For example, the findings show a strong relationship between AR water vapor transport at a given latitude and the area-averaged total precipitation of the region poleward. This and other results in this study indicate the importance of ARs in shaping our global weather and climate.

Shields, CA, Rutz JJ, Leung LY, Ralph FM, Wehner M, Kawzenuk B, Lora JM, McClenny E, Osborne T, Payne AE, Ullrich P, Gershunov A, Goldenson N, Guan B, Qian Y, Ramos AM, Sarangi C, Sellars S, Gorodetskaya I, Kashinath K, Kurlin V, Mahoney K, Muszynski G, Pierce R, Subramanian AC, Tome R, Waliser D, Walton D, Wick G, Wilson A, Lavers D, Prabhat, Collow A, Krishnan H, Magnusdottir G, Nguyen P.  2018.  Atmospheric River Tracking Method Intercomparison Project (ARTMIP): project goals and experimental design. Geoscientific Model Development. 11:2455-2474.   10.5194/gmd-11-2455-2018   AbstractWebsite

The Atmospheric River Tracking Method Intercomparison Project (ARTMIP) is an international collaborative effort to understand and quantify the uncertainties in atmospheric river (AR) science based on detection algorithm alone. Currently, there are many AR identification and tracking algorithms in the literature with a wide range of techniques and conclusions. ARTMIP strives to provide the community with information on different methodologies and provide guidance on the most appropriate algorithm for a given science question or region of interest. All ARTMIP participants will implement their detection algorithms on a specified common dataset for a defined period of time. The project is divided into two phases: Tier 1 will utilize the Modern-Era Retrospective analysis for Research and Applications, version 2 (MERRA-2) reanalysis from January 1980 to June 2017 and will be used as a baseline for all subsequent comparisons. Participation in Tier 1 is required. Tier 2 will be optional and include sensitivity studies designed around specific science questions, such as reanalysis uncertainty and climate change. High-resolution reanalysis and/or model output will be used wherever possible. Proposed metrics include AR frequency, duration, intensity, and precipitation attributable to ARs. Here, we present the ARTMIP experimental design, timeline, project requirements, and a brief description of the variety of methodologies in the current literature. We also present results from our 1-month "proof-of-concept" trial run designed to illustrate the utility and feasibility of the ARTMIP project.

Espinoza, V, Waliser DE, Guan B, Lavers DA, Ralph FM.  2018.  Global analysis of climate change projection effects on atmospheric rivers. Geophysical Research Letters. 45:4299-4308.   10.1029/2017gl076968   AbstractWebsite

A uniform, global approach is used to quantify how atmospheric rivers (ARs) change between Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 historical simulations and future projections under the Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 4.5 and RCP8.5 warming scenarios. The projections indicate that while there will be similar to 10% fewer ARs in the future, the ARs will be similar to 25% longer, similar to 25% wider, and exhibit stronger integrated water vapor transports (IVTs) under RCP8.5. These changes result in pronounced increases in the frequency (IVT strength) of AR conditions under RCP8.5: similar to 50% (25%) globally, similar to 50% (20%) in the northern midlatitudes, and similar to 60% (20%) in the southern midlatitudes. The models exhibit systematic low biases across the midlatitudes in replicating historical AR frequency (similar to 10%), zonal IVT (similar to 15%), and meridional IVT (similar to 25%), with sizable intermodel differences. A more detailed examination of six regions strongly impacted by ARs suggests that the western United States, northwestern Europe, and southwestern South America exhibit considerable intermodel differences in projected changes in ARs. Plain Language Summary Atmospheric rivers (ARs) are elongated strands of horizontal water vapor transport, accounting for over 90% of the poleward water vapor transport across midlatitudes. These "rivers in the sky" have important implications for extreme precipitation when they make landfall, particularly along the west coasts of many midlatitude continents (e.g., North America, South America, and West Europe) due to orographic lifting. ARs are important contributors to extreme weather and precipitation events, and while their presence can contribute to beneficial rainfall and snowfall, which can mitigate droughts, they can also lead to flooding and extreme winds. This study takes a uniform, global approach that is used to quantify how ARs change between Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 historical simulations and future projections under the Representative Concentration Pathway (RCP) 4.5 and RCP8.5 warming scenarios globally. The projections indicate that while there will be similar to 10% fewer ARs in the future, the ARs will be similar to 25% longer, similar to 25% wider, and exhibit stronger integrated water vapor transports under RCP8.5. These changes result in pronounced increases in the frequency (integrated water vapor transport strength) of AR conditions under RCP8.5: similar to 50% (25%) globally, similar to 50% (20%) in the northern midlatitudes, and similar to 60% (20%) in the southern midlatitudes.

DeFlorio, MJ, Waliser DE, Guan B, Lavers DA, Ralph FM, Vitart F.  2018.  Global assessment of atmospheric river prediction skill. Journal of Hydrometeorology. 19:409-426.   10.1175/jhm-d-17-0135.1   AbstractWebsite

Atmospheric rivers (ARs) are global phenomena that transport water vapor horizontally and are associated with hydrological extremes. In this study, the Atmospheric River Skill (ATRISK) algorithm is introduced, which quantifies AR prediction skill in an object-based framework using Subseasonal to Seasonal (S2S) Project global hindcast data from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) model. The dependence of AR forecast skill is globally characterized by season, lead time, and distance between observed and forecasted ARs. Mean values of daily AR prediction skill saturate around 7-10 days, and seasonal variations are highest over the Northern Hemispheric ocean basins, where AR prediction skill increases by 15%-20% at a 7-day lead during boreal winter relative to boreal summer. AR hit and false alarm rates are explicitly considered using relative operating characteristic (ROC) curves. This analysis reveals that AR forecast utility increases at 10-day lead over the North Pacific/western U.S. region during positive El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) conditions and at 7-and 10-day leads over the North Atlantic/U.K. region during negative Arctic Oscillation (AO) conditions and decreases at a 10-day lead over the North Pacific/western U.S. region during negative Pacific-North America (PNA) teleconnection conditions. Exceptionally large increases in AR forecast utility are found over the North Pacific/western United States at a 10-day lead during El Nino + positive PNA conditions and over the North Atlantic/United Kingdom at a 7-day lead during La Nina + negative PNA conditions. These results represent the first global assessment of AR prediction skill and highlight climate variability conditions that modulate regional AR forecast skill.

Guan, B, Waliser DE, Ralph FM.  2018.  An intercomparison between reanalysis and dropsonde observations of the total water vapor transport in individual atmospheric rivers. Journal of Hydrometeorology. 19:321-337.   10.1175/jhm-d-17-0114.1   AbstractWebsite

A recent study presented nearly two decades of airborne atmospheric river (AR) observations and concluded that, on average, an individual AR transports similar to 5 x 10(8) kg s(-1) of water vapor. The study here compares those cases to ARs independently identified in reanalyses based on a refined algorithm that can detect less well-structured ARs, with the dual-purpose of validating reanalysis ARs against observations and evaluating dropsonde representativeness relative to reanalyses. The first comparison is based on 21 dropsonde-observed ARs in the northeastern Pacific and those closely matched, but not required to be exactly collocated, in ERA-Interim (MERRA-2), which indicates a mean error of -2% (-8%) in AR width and +3% (-1%) in total integrated water vapor transport (TIVT) and supports the effectiveness of the AR detection algorithm applied to the reanalyses. The second comparison is between the 21 dropsonde ARs and similar to 6000 ARs detected in ERA-Interim (MERRA-2) over the same domain, which indicates a mean difference of 5% (20%) in AR width and 5% (14%) in TIVT and suggests the limited number of dropsonde observations is a highly (reasonably) representative sampling of ARs in the northeastern Pacific. Sensitivities of the comparison to seasonal and geographical variations in AR width/TIVT are also examined. The results provide a case where dedicated observational efforts in specific regions corroborate with global reanalyses in better characterizing the geometry and strength of ARs regionally and globally. The results also illustrate that the reanalysis depiction of ARs can help inform the selection of locations for future observational and modeling efforts.

2017
Lamjiri, MA, Dettinger MD, Ralph FM, Guan B.  2017.  Hourly storm characteristics along the US West Coast: Role of atmospheric rivers in extreme precipitation. Geophysical Research Letters. 44:7020-7028.   10.1002/2017gl074193   AbstractWebsite

Gridded hourly precipitation observations over the conterminous U.S., from 1948 to 2002, are analyzed to determine climatological characteristics of storm precipitation totals. Despite generally lower hourly intensities, precipitation totals along the U.S. West Coast (USWC) are comparable to those in southeast U.S. (SEUS). Storm durations, more so than hourly intensities, strongly modulate precipitation- total variability over the USWC, where the correlation coefficients between storm durations and storm totals range from 0.7 to 0.9. Atmospheric rivers (ARs) contribute 30-50% of annual precipitation on the USWC and make such large contributions to extreme storms that 60-100% of the most extreme storms, i.e., storms with precipitation- total return intervals longer than 2 years, are associated with ARs. These extreme storm totals are more strongly tied to storm durations than to storm hourly or average intensities, emphasizing the importance of AR persistence to extreme storms on the USWC.

Sellars, SL, Kawzenuk B, Nguyen P, Ralph FM, Sorooshian S.  2017.  Genesis, pathways, and terminations of intense global water vapor transport in association with large-scale climate patterns. Geophysical Research Letters. 44:12465-12475.   10.1002/2017gl075495   AbstractWebsite

The CONNected objECT (CONNECT) algorithm is applied to global Integrated Water Vapor Transport data from the NASA's Modern-Era Retrospective Analysis for Research and Applications - Version 2 reanalysis product for the period of 1980 to 2016. The algorithm generates life-cycle records in time and space evolving strong vapor transport events. We show five regions, located in the midlatitudes, where events typically exist (off the coast of the southeast United States, eastern China, eastern South America, off the southern tip of South Africa, and in the southeastern Pacific Ocean). Global statistics show distinct genesis and termination regions and global seasonal peak frequency during Northern Hemisphere late fall/winter and Southern Hemisphere winter. In addition, the event frequency and geographical location are shown to be modulated by the Arctic Oscillation, Pacific North American Pattern, and the quasi-biennial oscillation. Moreover, a positive linear trend in the annual number of objects is reported, increasing by 3.58 objects year-over-year. Plain Language Summary A computational science approach to tracking global atmospheric water vapor plumes is applied to a NASA data set from 1980 to 2016. Results show regions of the globe where intense water vapor transport often exists, including their genesis and termination locations. Winter time months tend to have more water vapor plumes in both the Southern and Northern Hemispheres. In addition, climate phenomena also have an impact on the frequency and location of these water vapor plumes.

Cannon, F, Ralph FM, Wilson AM, Lettenmaier DP.  2017.  GPM satellite radar measurements of precipitation and freezing level in atmospheric rivers: comparison with ground-based radars and reanalyses. Journal of Geophysical Research-Atmospheres. 122:12747-12764.   10.1002/2017jd027355   AbstractWebsite

Atmospheric rivers (ARs) account for more than 90% of the total meridional water vapor flux in midlatitudes, and 25-50% of the annual precipitation in the coastal western United States. In this study, reflectivity profiles from the Global Precipitation Measurement Dual-Frequency Precipitation Radar (GPM-DPR) are used to evaluate precipitation and temperature characteristics of ARs over the western coast of North America and the eastern North Pacific Ocean. Evaluation of GPM-DPR bright-band height using a network of ground-based vertically pointing radars along the West Coast demonstrated exceptional agreement, and comparison with freezing level height from reanalyses over the eastern North Pacific Ocean also consistently agreed, indicating that GPM-DPR can be used to independently validate freezing level in models. However, precipitation comparison with gridded observations across the western United States indicated deficiencies in GPM-DPR's ability to reproduce the spatial distribution of winter precipitation, likely related to sampling frequency. Over the geographically homogeneous oceanic portion of the domain, sampling frequency was not problematic, and significant differences in the frequency and intensity of precipitation between GPM-DPR and reanalyses highlighted biases in both satellite-observed and modeled AR precipitation. Reanalyses precipitation rates below the minimum sensitivity of GPM-DPR accounted for a 20% increase in total precipitation, and 25% of radar-derived precipitation rates were greater than the 99th percentile precipitation rate in reanalyses. Due to differences in the proportions of precipitation in convective, stratiform bright-band, and non-bright-band conditions, AR conditions contributed nearly 10% more to total precipitation in GPM-DPR than reanalyses.

Ralph, FM, Galarneau TJ.  2017.  The Chiricahua Gap and the Role of Easterly Water Vapor Transport in Southeastern Arizona Monsoon Precipitation. Journal of Hydrometeorology. 18:2511-2520.   10.1175/jhm-d-17-0031.1   AbstractWebsite

Between North America's Sierra Madre and Rocky Mountains exists a little-recognized terrain "gap.'' This study defines the gap, introduces the term "Chiricahua Gap,'' and documents the role of easterly transport of water vapor through the gap in modulating summer monsoon precipitation in southeastern Arizona. The gap is near the Arizona-New Mexico border north of Mexico and is approximately 250 km wide by 1 km deep. It is the lowest section along a 3000-km length of the Continental Divide from 168 to 45 degrees N and represents 80% of the total cross-sectional area below 2.5 km MSL open to horizontal water vapor transport in that region. This study uses reanalyses and unique upper-air observations in a case study and a 15-yr climatology to show that 72% (76%) of the top-quartile (decile) monsoon precipitation days in southeast Arizona during 2002-16 occurred in conditions with easterly water vapor transport through the Chiricahua Gap on the previous day.

Ralph, FM, Iacobellis SF, Neiman PJ, Cordeira JM, Spackman JR, Waliser DE, Wick GA, White AB, Fairall C.  2017.  Dropsonde observations of total integrated water vapor transport within North Pacific atmospheric rivers. Journal of Hydrometeorology. 18:2577-2596.   10.1175/jhm-d-17-0036.1   AbstractWebsite

Aircraft dropsonde observations provide the most comprehensive measurements to date of horizontal water vapor transport in atmospheric rivers (ARs). The CalWater experiment recently more than tripled the number of ARs probed with the required measurements. This study uses vertical profiles of water vapor, wind, and pressure obtained from 304 dropsondes across 21 ARs. On average, total water vapor transport ( TIVT) in an AR was 4.7 x 10(8) +/- 2 x 10(8) kg s(-1). This magnitude is 2.6 times larger than the average discharge of liquid water from the Amazon River. The mean AR width was 890 +/- 270 km. Subtropical ARs contained larger integrated water vapor ( IWV) but weaker winds than midlatitude ARs, although average TIVTs were nearly the same. Mean TIVTs calculated by defining the lateral "edges'' of ARs using an IVT threshold versus an IWV threshold produced results that differed by less than 10% across all cases, but did vary between the midlatitudes and subtropical regions.

Gershunov, A, Shulgina T, Ralph MF, Lavers DA, Rutz JJ.  2017.  Assessing the climate-scale variability of atmospheric rivers affecting western North America. Geophysical Research Letters.   10.1002/2017GL074175   Abstract

A new method for automatic detection of atmospheric rivers (ARs) is developed and applied to an atmospheric reanalysis, yielding an extensive catalog of ARs land-falling along the west coast of North America during 1948–2017. This catalog provides a large array of variables that can be used to examine AR cases and their climate-scale variability in exceptional detail. The new record of AR activity, as presented, validated and examined here, provides a perspective on the seasonal cycle and the interannual-interdecadal variability of AR activity affecting the hydroclimate of western North America. Importantly, AR intensity does not exactly follow the climatological pattern of AR frequency. Strong links to hydroclimate are demonstrated using a high-resolution precipitation data set. We describe the seasonal progression of AR activity and diagnose linkages with climate variability expressed in Pacific sea surface temperatures, revealing links to Pacific decadal variability, recent regional anomalies, as well as a generally rising trend in land-falling AR activity. The latter trend is consistent with a long-term increase in vapor transport from the warming North Pacific onto the North American continent. The new catalog provides unprecedented opportunities to study the climate-scale behavior and predictability of ARs affecting western North America.

Oakley, NS, Lancaster JT, Kaplan ML, Ralph FM.  2017.  Synoptic conditions associated with cool season post-fire debris flows in the Transverse Ranges of southern California. Natural Hazards. 88:327-354.   10.1007/s11069-017-2867-6   AbstractWebsite

The Transverse Ranges of southern California often experience fire followed by flood. This sequence sometimes causes post-fire debris flows (PFDFs) that threaten life and property situated on alluvial fans. The combination of steep topography, highly erodible rock and soil, and wildfire, coupled with intense rainfall, can initiate PFDFs even in cases of relatively small storm rainfall totals. This study identifies common atmospheric conditions during which damaging PFDFs occur in the Transverse Ranges during the cool season, defined here as November-March. A compilation of 93 PFDF events during 1980-2014 triggered by 19 precipitation events is compared against previous studies of the events, reanalysis, precipitation, and radar data to estimate PFDF trigger times. Each event was analyzed to determine common atmospheric features and their range of values present at and preceding the trigger time. Results show atmospheric rivers are a dominant feature, observed in 13 of the 19 events. Other common features include low-level winds orthogonal to the Transverse Ranges and other conditions favorable for orographic forcing, a strong upper level jet south of the region, and moist-neutral static stability. Several events included closed low-pressure systems or narrow cold frontal rain bands. These findings can help forecasters identify more precisely the synoptic-scale atmospheric conditions required to produce PFDF-triggering rainfall and thus reduce uncertainty when issuing warnings.

Hu, HC, Dominguez F, Wang Z, Lavers DA, Zhang G, Ralph FM.  2017.  Linking atmospheric river hydrological impacts on the US West Coast to Rossby wave breaking. Journal of Climate. 30:3381-3399.   10.1175/jcli-d-16-0386.1   AbstractWebsite

Atmospheric rivers (ARs) have significant hydrometeorological impacts on the U.S. West Coast. This study presents the connection between the characteristics of large-scale Rossby wave breaking (RWB) over the eastern North Pacific and the regional-scale hydrological impacts associated with landfalling ARs on the U.S. West Coast (36 degrees-49 degrees N). ARs associated with RWB account for two-thirds of the landfalling AR events and >70% of total AR-precipitation in the winter season. The two regimes of RWB-anticyclonic wave breaking (AWB) and cyclonic wave breaking (CWB)-are associated with different directions of the vertically integrated water vapor transport (IVT). AWB-ARs impinge in a more westerly direction on the coast whereas CWB-ARs impinge in a more southwesterly direction. Most of the landfalling ARs along the northwestern coast of the United States (states of Washington and Oregon) are AWB-ARs. Because of their westerly impinging angles when compared to CWB-ARs, AWBARs arrive more orthogonally to the western Cascades and more efficiently transform water vapor into precipitation through orographic lift than CWB-ARs. Consequently, AWB-ARs are associated with the most extreme streamflows in the region. Along the southwest coast of the United States (California), the southwesterly impinging angles of CWBARs are more orthogonal to the local topography. Furthermore, the southwest coast CWB-ARs have more intense IVT. Consequently, CWB-ARs are associated with the most intense precipitation. As a result, most of the extreme streamflows in southwest coastal basins are associated with CWB-ARs. In summary, depending on the associated RWB type, ARs impinge on the local topography at a different angle and have a different spatial signature of precipitation and streamflow.

Cordeira, JM, Ralph FM, Martin A, Gaggggini N, Spackman JR, Neiman PJ, Rutz JJ, Pierce R.  2017.  Forecasting atmospheric rivers during CalWater 2015. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. 98:449-459.   10.1175/bams-d-15-00245.1   AbstractWebsite
n/a
2016
Ralph, FM, Prather KA, Cayan D, Spackman JR, DeMott P, Dettinger M, Fairall C, Leung R, Rosenfeld D, Rutledge S, Waliser D, White AB, Cordeira J, Martin A, Helly J, Intrieri J.  2016.  CalWater field studies designed to quantify the roles of atmospheric rivers and aerosols in modulating US West Coast precipitation in a changing climate. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. 97:1209-1228.   10.1175/bams-d-14-00043.1   AbstractWebsite

The variability of precipitation and water supply along the U.S. West Coast creates major challenges to the region’s economy and environment, as evidenced by the recent California drought. This variability is strongly influenced by atmospheric rivers (ARs), which deliver much of the precipitation along the U.S. West Coast and can cause flooding, and by aerosols (from local sources and transported from remote continents and oceans) that modulate clouds and precipitation. A better understanding of these processes is needed to reduce uncertainties in weather predictions and climate projections of droughts and floods, both now and under changing climate conditions.To address these gaps, a group of meteorologists, hydrologists, climate scientists, atmospheric chemists, and oceanographers have created an interdisciplinary research effort, with support from multiple agencies. From 2009 to 2011 a series of field campaigns [California Water Service (CalWater) 1] collected atmospheric chemistry, cloud microphysics, and meteorological measurements in California and associated modeling and diagnostic studies were carried out. Based on the remaining gaps, a vision was developed to extend these studies offshore over the eastern North Pacific and to enhance land-based measurements from 2014 to 2018 (CalWater-2). The dataset and selected results from CalWater-1 are summarized here. The goals of CalWater-2, and measurements to date, are then described.CalWater is producing new findings and exploring new technologies to evaluate and improve global climate models and their regional performance and to develop tools supporting water and hydropower management. These advances also have potential to enhance hazard mitigation by improving near-term weather prediction and subseasonal and seasonal outlooks.

Ralph, FM, Cordeira JM, Neiman PJ, Hughes M.  2016.  Landfalling atmospheric rivers, the Sierra barrier jet, and extreme daily precipitation in Northern California's Upper Sacramento River watershed. Journal of Hydrometeorology. 17:1905-1914.   10.1175/jhm-d-15-0167.1   AbstractWebsite

The upper Sacramento River watershed is vital to California's water supply and is susceptible to major floods. Orographic precipitation in this complex terrain involves both atmospheric rivers (ARs) and the Sierra barrier jet (SBJ). The south-southeasterly SBJ induces orographic precipitation along south-facing slopes in the Mt. Shasta-Trinity Alps, whereas landfalling ARs ascend up and over the statically stable SBJ and induce orographic precipitation along west-facing slopes in the northern Sierra Nevada. This paper explores the occurrence of extreme daily precipitation (EDP) in this region in association with landfalling ARs and the SBJ. The 50 wettest days (i.e., days with EDP) for water years (WYs) 2002-11 based on the average of daily precipitation from eight rain gauges known as the Northern Sierra 8-Station Index (NS8I) are compared to dates from an SSM/I satellite-based landfalling AR-detection method and dates with SBJ events identified from nearby wind profiler data. These 50 days with EDP accounted for 20% of all precipitation during the 10-WY period, or 5 days with EDP per year on average account for one-fifth of WY precipitation. In summary, 46 of 50 (92%) days with EDP are associated with landfalling ARs on either the day before or the day of precipitation, whereas 45 of 50 (90%) days with EDP are associated with SBJ conditions on the day of EDP. Forty-one of 50 (82%) days with EDP are associated with both a landfalling AR and an SBJ. The top 10 days with EDP were all associated with both a landfalling AR and an SBJ.

Guan, B, Waliser DE, Ralph MF, Fetzer EJ, Neiman PJ.  2016.  Hydrometeorological characteristics of rain-on-snow events associated with atmospheric rivers. 43:2973.   10.1002/2016GL067978   Abstract

Atmospheric rivers (ARs) are narrow, elongated, synoptic corridors of enhanced water vapor transport that play an important role in regional weather/hydrology. Rain-on-snow (ROS) events during ARs present enhanced flood risks due to the combined effects of rainfall and snowmelt. Focusing on California's Sierra Nevada, the study identifies ROS occurrences and their connection with ARs during the 1998–2014 winters. AR conditions, which occur during 17% of all precipitation events, are associated with 50% of ROS events (25 of 50). Composite analysis shows that compared to ARs without ROS, ARs with ROS are on average warmer by ~2 K, with snow water equivalent loss of ~0.7 cm/d (providing 20% of the combined water available for runoff) and ~50% larger streamflow/precipitation ratios. Atmospheric Infrared Sounder retrievals reveal distinct offshore characteristics of the two types of ARs. The results highlight the potential value of observing these events for snow, rain, and flood prediction.

Neiman, PJ, Moore BJ, White AB, Wick GA, Aikins J, Jackson DL, Spackman JR, Ralph FM.  2016.  An airborne and ground-based study of a long-lived and intense atmospheric river with mesoscale frontal waves impacting California during CalWater-2014. Monthly Weather Review. 144:1115-1144.   10.1175/mwr-d-15-0319.1   AbstractWebsite

The wettest period during the CalWater-2014 winter field campaign occurred with a long-lived, intense atmospheric river (AR) that impacted California on 7-10 February. The AR was maintained in conjunction with the development and propagation of three successive mesoscale frontal waves. Based on Lagrangian trajectory analysis, moist air of tropical origin was tapped by the AR and was subsequently transported into California. Widespread heavy precipitation (200-400 mm) fell across the coastal mountain ranges northwest of San Francisco and across the northern Sierra Nevada, although only modest flooding ensued due to anomalously dry antecedent conditions. A NOAA G-IV aircraft flew through two of the frontal waves in the AR environment offshore during a ~24-h period. Parallel dropsonde curtains documented key three-dimensional thermodynamic and kinematic characteristics across the AR and the frontal waves prior to landfall. The AR characteristics varied, depending on the location of the cross section through the frontal waves. A newly implemented tail-mounted Doppler radar on the G-IV simultaneously captured coherent precipitation features. Along the coast, a 449-MHz wind profiler and collocated global positioning system (GPS) receiver documented prolonged AR conditions linked to the propagation of the three frontal waves and highlighted the orographic character of the coastal-mountain rainfall with the waves' landfall. A vertically pointing S-PROF radar in the coastal mountains provided detailed information on the bulk microphysical characteristics of the rainfall. Farther inland, a pair of 915-MHz wind profilers and GPS receivers quantified the orographic precipitation forcing as the AR ascended the Sierra Nevada, and as the terrain-induced Sierra barrier jet ascended the northern terminus of California's Central Valley.

Lavers, DA, Waliser DE, Ralph FM, Dettinger MD.  2016.  Predictability of horizontal water vapor transport relative to precipitation: Enhancing situational awareness for forecasting western US extreme precipitation and flooding. Geophysical Research Letters. 43:2275-2282.   10.1002/2016gl067765   AbstractWebsite

The western United States is vulnerable to socioeconomic disruption due to extreme winter precipitation and floods. Traditionally, forecasts of precipitation and river discharge provide the basis for preparations. Herein we show that earlier event awareness may be possible through use of horizontal water vapor transport (integrated vapor transport (IVT)) forecasts. Applying the potential predictability concept to the National Centers for Environmental Prediction global ensemble reforecasts, across 31 winters, IVT is found to be more predictable than precipitation. IVT ensemble forecasts with the smallest spreads (least forecast uncertainty) are associated with initiation states with anomalously high geopotential heights south of Alaska, a setup conducive for anticyclonic conditions and weak IVT into the western United States. IVT ensemble forecasts with the greatest spreads (most forecast uncertainty) have initiation states with anomalously low geopotential heights south of Alaska and correspond to atmospheric rivers. The greater IVT predictability could provide warnings of impending storminess with additional lead times for hydrometeorological applications.

2015
Lavers, DA, Ralph FM, Waliser DE, Gershunov A, Dettinger MD.  2015.  Climate change intensification of horizontal water vapor transport in CMIP5. Geophysical Research Letters. 42:5617-5625.   10.1002/2015gl064672   AbstractWebsite

Global warming of the Earth's atmosphere is hypothesized to lead to an intensification of the global water cycle. To determine associated hydrological changes, most previous research has used precipitation. This study, however, investigates projected changes to global atmospheric water vapor transport (integrated vapor transport (IVT)), the key link between water source and sink regions. Using 22 global circulation models from the Climate Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5, we evaluate, globally, the mean, standard deviation, and the 95th percentiles of IVT from the historical simulations (1979-2005) and two emissions scenarios (2073-2099). Considering the more extreme emissions, multimodel mean IVT increases by 30-40% in the North Pacific and North Atlantic storm tracks and in the equatorial Pacific Ocean trade winds. An acceleration of the high-latitude IVT is also shown. Analysis of low-altitude moisture and winds suggests that these changes are mainly due to higher atmospheric water vapor content.