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Rebecca E. Stone, Carolyn A. Reynolds, James D. Doyle, Rolf H. Langland, Nancy L. Baker, David A. Lavers, and F. Martin Ralph


Atmospheric rivers, often associated with impactful weather along the west coast of North America, can be a challenge to forecast even on short time scales. This is attributed, at least in part, to the scarcity of eastern Pacific in situ observations. We examine the impact of assimilating dropsonde observations collected during the Atmospheric River (AR) Reconnaissance 2018 field program on the Navy Global Environmental Model (NAVGEM) analyses and forecasts. We compare NAVGEM’s representation of the ARs to the observations, and examine whether the observation–background difference statistics are similar to the observation error variance specified in the data assimilation system. Forecast sensitivity observation impact is determined for each dropsonde variable, and compared to the impacts of the North American radiosonde network. We find that the reconnaissance soundings have significant beneficial impact, with per observation impact more than double that of the North American radiosonde network. Temperature and wind observations have larger total and per observation impact than moisture observations. In our experiment, the 24-h global forecast error reduction from the reconnaissance soundings can be comparable to the reduction from the North American radiosonde network for the field program dates that include at least two flights.

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David A. Lavers, N. Bruce Ingleby, Aneesh C. Subramanian, David S. Richardson, F. Martin Ralph, James D. Doyle, Carolyn A. Reynolds, Ryan D. Torn, Mark J. Rodwell, Vijay Tallapragada, and Florian Pappenberger


A key aim of observational campaigns is to sample atmosphere–ocean phenomena to improve understanding of these phenomena, and in turn, numerical weather prediction. In early 2018 and 2019, the Atmospheric River Reconnaissance (AR Recon) campaign released dropsondes and radiosondes into atmospheric rivers (ARs) over the northeast Pacific Ocean to collect unique observations of temperature, winds, and moisture in ARs. These narrow regions of water vapor transport in the atmosphere—like rivers in the sky—can be associated with extreme precipitation and flooding events in the midlatitudes. This study uses the dropsonde observations collected during the AR Recon campaign and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) Integrated Forecasting System (IFS) to evaluate forecasts of ARs. Results show that ECMWF IFS forecasts 1) were colder than observations by up to 0.6 K throughout the troposphere; 2) have a dry bias in the lower troposphere, which along with weaker winds below 950 hPa, resulted in weaker horizontal water vapor fluxes in the 950–1000-hPa layer; and 3) exhibit an underdispersiveness in the water vapor flux that largely arises from model representativeness errors associated with dropsondes. Four U.S. West Coast radiosonde sites confirm the IFS cold bias throughout winter. These issues are likely to affect the model’s hydrological cycle and hence precipitation forecasts.

Open access
A. B. White, M. L. Anderson, M. D. Dettinger, F. M. Ralph, A. Hinojosa, D. R. Cayan, R. K. Hartman, D. W. Reynolds, L. E. Johnson, T. L. Schneider, R. Cifelli, Z. Toth, S. I. Gutman, C. W. King, F. Gehrke, P. E. Johnston, C. Walls, D. Mann, D. J. Gottas, and T. Coleman


During Northern Hemisphere winters, the West Coast of North America is battered by extratropical storms. The impact of these storms is of paramount concern to California, where aging water supply and flood protection infrastructures are challenged by increased standards for urban flood protection, an unusually variable weather regime, and projections of climate change. Additionally, there are inherent conflicts between releasing water to provide flood protection and storing water to meet requirements for the water supply, water quality, hydropower generation, water temperature and flow for at-risk species, and recreation. To improve reservoir management and meet the increasing demands on water, improved forecasts of precipitation, especially during extreme events, are required. Here, the authors describe how California is addressing their most important and costliest environmental issue—water management—in part, by installing a state-of-the-art observing system to better track the area’s most severe wintertime storms.

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F. Martin Ralph, Forest Cannon, Vijay Tallapragada, Christopher A. Davis, James D. Doyle, Florian Pappenberger, Aneesh Subramanian, Anna M. Wilson, David A. Lavers, Carolyn A. Reynolds, Jennifer S. Haase, Luca Centurioni, Bruce Ingleby, Jonathan J. Rutz, Jason M. Cordeira, Minghua Zheng, Chad Hecht, Brian Kawzenuk, and Luca Delle Monache


Water management and flood control are major challenges in the western United States. They are heavily influenced by atmospheric river (AR) storms that produce both beneficial water supply and hazards; for example, 84% of all flood damages in the West (up to 99% in key areas) are associated with ARs. However, AR landfall forecast position errors can exceed 200 km at even 1-day lead time and yet many watersheds are <100 km across, which contributes to issues such as the 2017 Oroville Dam spillway incident and regularly to large flood forecast errors. Combined with the rise of wildfires and deadly post-wildfire debris flows, such as Montecito (2018), the need for better AR forecasts is urgent. Atmospheric River Reconnaissance (AR Recon) was developed as a research and operations partnership to address these needs. It combines new observations, modeling, data assimilation, and forecast verification methods to improve the science and predictions of landfalling ARs. ARs over the northeast Pacific are measured using dropsondes from up to three aircraft simultaneously. Additionally, airborne radio occultation is being tested, and drifting buoys with pressure sensors are deployed. AR targeting and data collection methods have been developed, assimilation and forecast impact experiments are ongoing, and better understanding of AR dynamics is emerging. AR Recon is led by the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes and NWS/NCEP. The effort’s core partners include the U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, NCAR, ECMWF, and multiple academic institutions. AR Recon is included in the “National Winter Season Operations Plan” to support improved outcomes for emergency preparedness and water management in the West.

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