Capsule summary

A significant data void exists in the lower atmosphere during Atmospheric River (AR) events over the northeastern Pacific. When available, AR Reconnaissance data provide the majority of direct observations within the critical layer of an oceanic AR.

Abstract

Conventional observations of Atmospheric Rivers (ARs) over the northeastern Pacific Ocean are sparse. Satellite radiances are affected by the presence of clouds and heavy precipitation, which impact their distribution in the lower atmosphere and in precipitating areas. The goal of this study is to document a data gap in existing observations of ARs in the northeastern Pacific, and to investigate how a targeted field campaign called AR Reconnaissance (AR Recon) can effectively fill this gap.

When reconnaissance data are excluded, there is a gap in AR regions from near the surface to middle troposphere (below 450 hPa), where most water vapor and its transport are concentrated. All-sky microwave radiances provide data within the AR object, but their quality is degraded near the AR core and its leading edge, due to the existence of thick clouds and precipitation. AR Recon samples ARs and surrounding areas to improve downstream precipitation forecasts over the western United States (U.S.). This study demonstrates that despite the apparently extensive swaths of modern satellite radiances, which are critical to estimate large-scale flow, the data collected during 15 AR Recon cases in 2016, 2018, and 2019 supply about 99% of humidity, 78% of temperature, and 45% of wind observations in the critical maximum water vapor transport layer from the ocean surface to 700 hPa in ARs. The high-vertical-resolution dropsonde observations in the lower atmosphere over the northeastern Pacific Ocean can significantly improve the sampling of low-level jets transporting water vapor to high-impact precipitation events in the western U.S.

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