Document Details

Assessing the climate‐scale variability of atmospheric rivers affecting western North America

Tamara Shulgina, Jonathan J. Rutz, F. Martin Ralph, David A. Lavers, Alexander Gershunov | August 3rd, 2017

We have created a new seven‐decade‐long catalog of atmospheric river behavior land‐falling upon the west coast of North America. The catalog has been validated against independent precipitation observations to ensure that the atmospheric rivers represented therein are associated with extreme orographic precipitation. Our results clearly delineate a prominent role for atmospheric rivers in California’s hydroclimate. Atmospheric river variability has been particularly important in the recent California drought as well as its most recent lapse. We also detect a long‐term increasing trend in water vapor transport impinging on the west coast of North America associated with atmospheric rivers and overall wintertime water vapor transport associated with climate warming. Our results, moreover, suggest that potential predictability of seasonal behavior of atmospheric rivers may hinge on sources of climatic variability somewhat different from that of total water vapor transport.


atmospheric rivers, climate change, flood management, water supply forecasting