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An atmospheric river (AR) is a narrow corridor or filament of concentrated moisture in the atmosphere. Other names for this phenomenon are tropical plume, tropical connection, moisture plume, and water vapor surge.
Atmospheric rivers consist of narrow bands of enhanced water vapor transport, typically along the boundaries between large areas of divergent surface air flow, including some frontal zones in association with extratropical cyclones that form over the oceans.Pineapple Express storms are the most commonly represented and recognized type of atmospheric rivers; they are given the name due to the warm water vapor plumes originating over the Hawaiian tropics that follow various paths towards western North America, arriving at latitudes from California and the Pacific Northwest to British Columbia and even southeast Alaska.
The term was originally coined by researchers Reginald Newell and Yong Zhu of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the early 1990s, to reflect the narrowness of the moisture plumes involved.Atmospheric rivers are typically several thousand kilometers long and only a few hundred kilometers wide, and a single one can carry a greater flux of water than the Earth's largest river, the Amazon River. There are typically 3–5 of these narrow plumes present within a hemisphere at any given time.
In the current research field of atmospheric rivers the length and width factors described above in conjunction with an integrated water vapor depth greater than 2.0 cm are used as standards to categorize atmospheric river events.
A January 2019 article in Geophysical Research Letters described them as "long, meandering plumes of water vapor often originating over the tropical oceans that bring sustained, heavy precipitation to the west coasts of North America and northern Europe" that cause rainfall throughout the winter months."
As data modeling techniques progress, integrated water vapor transport (IVT) is becoming a more common data type used to interpret atmospheric rivers. Its strength lies in its ability to show the transportation of water vapor over multiple time steps instead of a stagnant measurement of water vapor depth in a specific air column (IWV). In addition IVT is more directly attributed to orographic precipitation, a key factor in the production of intense rainfall and subsequent flooding.For instance the water vapor image to the left shows two rivers on 5 December 2015: the first, stretching from the Caribbean to the United Kingdom, caused by Storm Desmond, and the second originating from the Philippines is crossing the Pacific Ocean to the west coast of North America.
|2||Moderate||Mostly beneficial, also hazardous||≥500–750|
|3||Strong||Balance of beneficial and hazardous||≥750–1000|
|4||Extreme||Mostly hazardous, also beneficial||≥1000–1250|
The Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes (CW3E) at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography released a five-level scale in February 2019 to categorize atmospheric rivers, ranging from "weak" to "exceptional" in strength, or "beneficial" to "hazardous" in impact. The scale was developed by F. Martin Ralph, director of CW3E, who collaborated with Jonathan Rutz from the National Weather Service and other experts.The scale considers both the amount of water vapor transported and the duration of the event. Atmospheric rivers receive a preliminary rank according to the 3-hour average maximum vertically integrated water vapor transport. Those lasting less than 24 hours are demoted by one rank, while those lasting longer than 48 hours are increased by one rank.
Examples of different atmospheric river categories include the following historical storms:
Typically, the Oregon coast averages one Cat 4 atmospheric river (AR) each year; Washington state averages one Cat 4 AR every two years; the Bay Area averages one Cat 4 AR every three years; and southern California, which typically experiences one Cat 2 or Cat 3 AR each year, averages one Cat 4 AR every ten years.
Atmospheric rivers have a central role in the global water cycle. On any given day, atmospheric rivers account for over 90% of the global meridional (north-south) water vapor transport, yet they cover less than 10% of the Earth's circumference.Atmospheric rivers are also known to contribute to about 22% of total global runoff.
They also are the major cause of extreme precipitation events that cause severe flooding in many mid-latitude, westerly coastal regions of the world, including the West Coast of North America,Western Europe, the west coast of North Africa, the Iberian Peninsula, Iran and New Zealand. Equally, the absence of atmospheric rivers has been linked with the occurrence of droughts in several parts of the world including South Africa, Spain and Portugal.
The inconsistency of California's rainfall is due to the variability in strength and quantity of these storms, which can produce strenuous effects on California's water budget. The factors described above make California a perfect case study to show the importance of proper water management and prediction of these storms.The significance atmospheric rivers have for the control of coastal water budgets juxtaposed against their creation of detrimental floods can be constructed and studied by looking at California and the surrounding coastal region of the western United States. In this region atmospheric rivers have contributed 30–50% of total annual rainfall according to a 2013 study. The Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA) report, released by the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) on November 23, 2018 confirmed that along the U.S. western coast, landfalling atmospheric rivers "account for 30%–40% of precipitation and snowpack. These landfalling atmospheric rivers "are associated with severe flooding events in California and other western states."
The USGCRP team of thirteen federal agencies—the DOA, DOC, DOD, DOE, HHS, DOI, DOS, DOT, EPA, NASA, NSF, Smithsonian Institution, and the USAID—with the assistance of "1,000 people, including 300 leading scientists, roughly half from outside the government" reported that, "As the world warms, the "landfalling atmospheric rivers on the West Coast are likely to increase" in "frequency and severity" because of "increasing evaporation and higher atmospheric water vapor levels in the atmosphere."
Based on the North American Regional Reanalysis (NARR) analyses, a team led by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Paul J. Neiman, concluded in 2011 that landfalling ARs were "responsible for nearly all the annual peak daily flow (APDF)s in western Washington" from 1998 through 2009.
The front cover of the NCA4 report features a natural-color NASA image of conditions over the northeastern Pacific on February 20, 2017. The report said that this AR brought a "stunning" end to the American West's 5-year drought with "some parts of California received nearly twice as much rain in a single deluge as normally falls in the preceding 5 months (October–February)". NASA Earth Observatory's Jesse Allen created the front cover visualization with the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) data on the Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership (NPP) satellite.
According to a May 14, 2019 article in San Jose, California's The Mercury News , atmospheric rivers, "giant conveyor belts of water in the sky", cause the moisture-rich "Pineapple express" storm systems that come from the Pacific Ocean several times annually and account for about 50 percent of California's annual precipitation.University of California at San Diego's Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes's director Marty Ralph, who is one of the United States' experts on atmospheric river storms and has been active in AR research for many years, said that, atmospheric rivers are more common in winter. For example, from October 2018 to spring 2019, there were 47 atmospheric river, 12 of which were rated strong or extreme, in Washington, Oregon and California. The rare May 2019 atmospheric rivers, classified as Category 1 and Category 2, are beneficial in terms of preventing seasonal wildfires but the "swings between heavy rain and raging wildfires" are raising questions about moving from "understanding that the climate is changing to understanding what to do about it."
Atmospheric rivers have caused an average of $1.1 billion annually, much of it occurring in Sonoma County, California, according to a December 2019 study by the Scripps Institution on Oceanography at UC San Diego and the US Army Corps of Engineers, which analyzed data from the National Flood Insurance Program and the National Weather Service. Just twenty counties suffered almost 70% of the damage, the study found, and that one of the main factors in the scale of damage appeared to be the number of properties located in a flood plain. These counties were:
According to a January 22, 2019 article in Geophysical Research Letters , the Fraser River Basin (FRB), a "snow-dominated watershed"in British Columbia, is exposed to landfalling ARs, originating over the tropical Pacific Ocean that bring "sustained, heavy precipitation" throughout the winter months. The authors predict that based on their modelling "extreme rainfall events resulting from atmospheric rivers may lead to peak annual floods of historic proportions, and of unprecedented frequency, by the late 21st century in the Fraser River Basin."
While a large body of research has shown the impacts of the atmospheric rivers on weather-related natural disasters over the western U.S. and Europe, little is known about their mechanisms and contribution to flooding in the Middle East. However, a rare atmospheric river was found responsible for the record floods of March 2019 in Iran that damaged one-third of the country’s infrastructures and killed 76 people. This AR was named Dena, after the peak of the Zagros Mountains, which played a crucial role in precipitation formation. AR Dena started its long, 9000 km journey from the Atlantic Ocean and travelled across North Africa before its final landfall over the Zagros Mountains. Specific synoptic weather conditions, including tropical-extratropical interactions of the atmospheric jets, and anomalously warm sea-surface temperatures in all surrounding basins provided the necessary ingredients for formation of this AR. Water transport by AR Dena was equivalent to more than 150 times the aggregated flow of the four major rivers in the region (Tigris, Euphrates, Karun and Karkheh). The intense rains made the 2018-2019 rainy season the wettest in the past half century, a sharp contrast with the prior year, which was the driest over the same period. Thus, this event is a compelling example of rapid dry-to-wet transitions and intensification of extremes, potentially resulting from the climate change.
According to a 2011 Eos magazine articleby 1998, the spatiotemporal coverage of water vapor data over oceans had vastly improved through the use of "microwave remote sensing from polar-orbiting satellites", such as the special sensor microwave/imager (SSM/I). This led to greatly increased attention to the "prevalence and role" of atmospheric rivers ARs. Prior to the use of these satellites and sensors, scientists were mainly dependent on weather balloons and other related technologies that did not adequately cover oceans. SSM/I and similar technologies, provide "frequent global measurements of Integrated Water Vapor (IWV) over the Earth’s oceans."
El Niño is the warm phase of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and is associated with a band of warm ocean water that develops in the central and east-central equatorial Pacific, including the area off the Pacific coast of South America. The ENSO is the cycle of warm and cold sea surface temperature (SST) of the tropical central and eastern Pacific Ocean. El Niño is accompanied by high air pressure in the western Pacific and low air pressure in the eastern Pacific. El Niño phases are known to occur close to four years, however, records demonstrate that the cycles have lasted between two and seven years. During the development of El Niño, rainfall develops between September–November. The cool phase of ENSO is La Niña, with SSTs in the eastern Pacific below average, and air pressure high in the eastern Pacific and low in the western Pacific. The ENSO cycle, including both El Niño and La Niña, causes global changes in temperature and rainfall.
Extreme weather or extreme climate events includes unexpected, unusual, severe, or unseasonal weather; weather at the extremes of the historical distribution—the range that has been seen in the past. Often, extreme events are based on a location's recorded weather history and defined as lying in the most unusual ten percent.
La Niña is a coupled ocean-atmosphere phenomenon that is the colder counterpart of El Niño, as part of the broader El Niño–Southern Oscillation climate pattern. The name La Niña originates from Spanish, meaning "the little girl", analogous to El Niño meaning "the little boy". It has also in the past been called anti-El Niño, and El Viejo. During a period of La Niña, the sea surface temperature across the equatorial Eastern Central Pacific Ocean will be lower than normal by 3 to 5 °C. An appearance of La Niña persists for at least five months. It has extensive effects on the weather across the globe, particularly in North America, even affecting the Atlantic and Pacific hurricane seasons, in which more tropical cyclones in the Atlantic basin due to low wind shear and warmer sea surface temperatures, while reducing tropical cyclogenesis in the Pacific Ocean during a La Niña.
In meteorology, precipitation is any product of the condensation of atmospheric water vapour that falls under gravity from clouds. The main forms of precipitation include drizzle, rain, sleet, snow, ice pellets, graupel and hail. Precipitation occurs when a portion of the atmosphere becomes saturated with water vapor, so that the water condenses and "precipitates". Thus, fog and mist are not precipitation but suspensions, because the water vapor does not condense sufficiently to precipitate. Two processes, possibly acting together, can lead to air becoming saturated: cooling the air or adding water vapor to the air. Precipitation forms as smaller droplets coalesce via collision with other rain drops or ice crystals within a cloud. Short, intense periods of rain in scattered locations are called "showers."
El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is an irregularly periodic variation in winds and sea surface temperatures over the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean, affecting the climate of much of the tropics and subtropics. The warming phase of the sea temperature is known as El Niño and the cooling phase as La Niña. The Southern Oscillation is the accompanying atmospheric component, coupled with the sea temperature change: El Niño is accompanied by high air surface pressure in the tropical western Pacific and La Niña with low air surface pressure there. The two periods last several months each and typically occur every few years with varying intensity per period.
The Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO) is the largest element of the intraseasonal variability in the tropical atmosphere. It was discovered in 1971 by Roland Madden and Paul Julian of the American National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). It is a large-scale coupling between atmospheric circulation and tropical deep atmospheric convection. Unlike a standing pattern like the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), the Madden–Julian oscillation is a traveling pattern that propagates eastward, at approximately 4 to 8 m/s, through the atmosphere above the warm parts of the Indian and Pacific oceans. This overall circulation pattern manifests itself most clearly as anomalous rainfall.
Hurricane Kathleen was a tropical cyclone that had a destructive impact in California. On September 7, 1976, a tropical depression formed; two days later it accelerated north towards the Baja California Peninsula. Kathleen brushed the Pacific coast of the peninsula as a hurricane on September 9 and made landfall as a fast-moving tropical storm the next day. With its circulation intact and still a tropical storm, Kathleen headed north into the United States and affected California and Arizona. Kathleen finally dissipated late on September 11.
The atmosphere of Mars is the layer of gases surrounding Mars. It is primarily composed of carbon dioxide (95.32%), molecular nitrogen (2.6%) and argon (1.9%). It also contains trace levels of water vapor, oxygen, carbon monoxide, hydrogen and other noble gases. The atmosphere of Mars is much thinner than Earth's. The surface pressure is only about 610 pascals (0.088 psi) which is less than 1% of the Earth's value. The currently thin Martian atmosphere prohibits the existence of liquid water at the surface of Mars, but many studies suggest that the Martian atmosphere was much thicker in the past. The highest atmospheric density on Mars is equal to the density found 35 km above the Earth's surface. The atmosphere of Mars has been losing mass to space throughout history, and the leakage of gases still continues today.
A tropical cyclone is a rapidly rotating storm system characterized by a low-pressure center, a closed low-level atmospheric circulation, strong winds, and a spiral arrangement of thunderstorms that produce heavy rain or squalls. Depending on its location and strength, a tropical cyclone is referred to by different names, including hurricane, typhoon, tropical storm, cyclonic storm, tropical depression, and simply cyclone. A hurricane is a tropical cyclone that occurs in the Atlantic Ocean and northeastern Pacific Ocean, and a typhoon occurs in the northwestern Pacific Ocean; in the south Pacific or Indian Ocean, comparable storms are referred to simply as "tropical cyclones" or "severe cyclonic storms".
The Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), also known as the Indian Niño, is an irregular oscillation of sea surface temperatures in which the western Indian Ocean becomes alternately warmer and then colder than the eastern part of the ocean.
Natural disasters in India, many of them related to the climate of India, cause massive losses of life and property. Droughts, flash floods, cyclones, avalanches, landslides brought by torrential rains, and snowstorms pose the greatest threats. A natural disaster might be caused by earthquakes, flooding, volcanic eruption, landslides, hurricanes etc. In order to be classified as a disaster it will have profound environmental effect and/or human loss and frequently incurs financial loss. Other dangers include frequent summer dust storms, which usually track from north to south; they cause extensive property damage in North India and deposit large amounts of dust from arid regions. Hail is also common in parts of India, causing severe damage to standing crops such as rice and wheat and many more crops.
Polar amplification is the phenomenon that any change in the net radiation balance tends to produce a larger change in temperature near the poles than the planetary average. On a planet with an atmosphere that can restrict emission of longwave radiation to space, surface temperatures will be warmer than a simple planetary equilibrium temperature calculation would predict. Where the atmosphere or an extensive ocean is able to transport heat polewards, the poles will be warmer and equatorial regions cooler than their local net radiation balances would predict.
Rain is liquid water in the form of droplets that have condensed from atmospheric water vapor and then become heavy enough to fall under gravity. Rain is a major component of the water cycle and is responsible for depositing most of the fresh water on the Earth. It provides suitable conditions for many types of ecosystems, as well as water for hydroelectric power plants and crop irrigation.
Tropical cyclones and climate change concerns how tropical cyclones have changed, and are expected to further change due to climate change. The topic receives considerable attention from climate scientists who study the connections between storms and climate, and notably since 2005 makes news during active storm seasons. The 2018 U.S. National Climate Change Assessment reported that "increases in greenhouse gases and decreases in air pollution have contributed to increases in Atlantic hurricane activity since 1970."
An ARkStorm is a hypothetical but scientifically realistic "megastorm" scenario developed and published by the Multi Hazards Demonstration Project (MHDP) of the United States Geological Survey, based on historical occurrences. It describes an extreme storm that could devastate much of California, causing up to $725 billion in losses, and affect a quarter of California's homes. The event would be similar to exceptionally intense California storms that occurred between December 1861 and January 1862, which dumped nearly 10 feet of rain in parts of California, over a period of 43 days. The name "ARkStorm" means "atmospheric river (AR) 1,000 (k)" as the storm was originally projected as a 1-in-1000-year event.
In early September 1921, the remnants of a Category 1 hurricane brought damaging floods to areas of Mexico and the U.S. state of Texas, particularly in the San Antonio region. On September 4, a tropical cyclone developed in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico near the Bay of Campeche. Moving slowly in a general westward direction, the disturbance reached hurricane intensity on September 7 prior to making landfall south of Tampico, Mexico the following day. The storm weakened over land, and lost cyclonic characteristics later that day. However, a nearby high-pressure area forced the remnants of the system northward into Texas. Due to an orographic lifting effect, the remnants were able to produce torrential and record rainfall over the state. Precipitation peaked over Central Texas, where the highest rainfall amount measured was 40 in (1,016 mm) near Thrall, Texas; this was the fourth-highest tropical cyclone-related rainfall total in Texas since record keeping began. Similarly, an observation of 36.40 in (925 mm) elsewhere in Williamson County, Texas ranked as the sixth-highest tropical cyclone-related rainfall total for the state. The high precipitation totals set nationwide records which would stand for several years.
The "Ridiculously Resilient Ridge", sometimes shortened to "Triple R" or "RRR", is the nickname given to a persistent anticyclone that occurred over the far northeastern Pacific Ocean, causing the 2011–2017 California drought. The "Ridiculously Resilient Ridge" nickname was originally coined in December 2013 by Daniel Swain on the Weather West Blog, but has since been used widely in popular media as well as in peer-reviewed scientific literature.
Tiffany Shaw is a geophysical scientist from Canada. She is currently an Associate Professor at the University of Chicago. She is known for her extensive contributions to the geophysical and atmospheric sciences.
Caroline C. Ummenhofer is a physical oceanographer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution where she studies extreme weather events with a particular focus on the Indian Ocean. Ummenhofer makes an effort to connect her discoveries about predicting extreme weather events and precipitation to helping the nations affected.
The present‐day frequency of landfalling atmospheric rivers on the Canadian west coast is projected to increase nearly fourfold by the late 21st century, with a proportionate increase in extreme rainfall events. Our work is the first to directly investigate the impact of these “rivers in the sky” on “rivers on the land” using climate model projections. Focusing on the Fraser River Basin, Canada's largest Pacific watershed, and using a business‐as‐usual industrial emissions scenario, we show that the basin transitions from one where peak flow results from spring snowmelt to one where peak flow is often caused by extreme rainfall. Our modeling suggests that extreme rainfall events resulting from atmospheric rivers may lead to peak annual floods of historic proportions, and of unprecedented frequency, by the late 21st century in the Fraser River Basin.