The Mediterranean storm “Vaia” developed within a typical autumn synoptic circulation, generally associated with heavy rain conditions over the western Mediterranean basin. Intense precipitation was responsible for floods over Italy between 27-30 October 2018 and the storm was accompanied by explosive cyclogenesis, storm surge and extremely intense wind gusts, that caused casualties and extensive damages, especially to the Alpine forests. This study investigates the contribution of different moisture sources to the extreme precipitation by means of numerical model simulations using the Bologna Limited Area Model (BOLAM). In particular, the attention is focused on the significant amount of water vapor transported into the Mediterranean basin from the Atlantic tropical area, and organized along a narrow corridor across the African continent. First, a newly developed detection algorithm is applied to identify this transport as an Atmospheric River (AR). Then, the implementation of an atmospheric water budget diagnostic, supported by sensitivity experiments, allows to assess the role of the AR in terms of water supply to the precipitation systems.
Although the transport of moisture from remote regions is known to be an important ingredient for the onset of heavy precipitation in the Mediterranean, the role of ARs, already identified in correspondence with some of these events, has not been deeply investigated and quantified yet in this specific area. The results demonstrate that the AR was critical for determining the magnitude of this heavy precipitation episode over Italy, while evaporation from the sea played a secondary role, especially for precipitation over the Alps.