Statistical relationships between atmospheric rivers (ARs) and extratropical cyclones and anticyclones are investigated on a global scale using objectively identified ARs, cyclones, and anticyclones during 1979–2014. Composites of circulation and moisture fields around the ARs show that a strong cyclone is located poleward and westward of the AR centroid, which confirms the close link between the AR and extratropical cyclone. In addition, a pronounced anticyclone is found to be located equatorward and eastward of the AR, whose presence together with the cyclone leads to strong horizontal pressure gradient that forces moisture to be transported along a narrow corridor within the warm sector of the cyclone. This anticyclone located toward the downstream equatorward side of the cyclone is found to be missing for cyclones not associated with ARs. These key features are robust in composites performed in different hemispheres, over different ocean basins, and with respect to different AR intensities. Furthermore, correlation analysis shows that the AR intensity is much better correlated with the pressure gradient between the cyclone and anticyclone than with the cyclone/anticyclone intensity alone, although stronger cyclones favor the occurrence of AR. The importance of the horizontal pressure gradient in the formation of the AR is also consistent with the fact that climatologically ARs are frequently found over the region between the polar lows and subtropical highs in all seasons.

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