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A. Cobb, A. Michaelis, S. Iacobellis, F. M. Ralph, and L. Delle Monache


Atmospheric rivers (ARs) are responsible for intense winter rainfall events impacting the U.S. West Coast, and have been studied extensively during CalWater and AR Recon field programs (2014–20). A unique set of 858 dropsondes deployed in lines transecting 33 ARs are analyzed, and integrated vapor transport (IVT) is used to define five regions: core, cold and warm sectors, and non-AR cold and warm sides. The core is defined as having at least 80% of the maximum IVT in the transect. Remaining dropsondes with IVT > 250 kg m−1 s−1 are assigned to cold or warm sectors, and those outside of this threshold form non-AR sides. The mean widths of the three AR sectors are approximately 280 km. However, the core contains roughly 50% of all the water vapor transport (i.e., the total IVT), while the others each contain roughly 25%. A low-level jet occurs most often in the core and warm sector with mean maximum wind speeds of 28.3 and 21.7 m s−1, comparable to previous studies, although with heights approximately 300 m lower than previously reported. The core exhibits characteristics most favorable for adiabatic lifting to saturation by the California coastal range. On average, stability in the core is moist neutral, with considerable variability around the mean. A relaxed squared moist Brunt–Väisälä frequency threshold shows ~8%–12% of core profiles exhibiting near-moist neutrality. The vertical distribution of IVT, which modulates orographic precipitation, varied across AR sectors, with 75% of IVT residing below 3115 m in the core.

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F. M. Ralph, S. F. Iacobellis, P. J. Neiman, J. M. Cordeira, J. R. Spackman, D. E. Waliser, G. A. Wick, A. B. White, and C. Fairall


Aircraft dropsonde observations provide the most comprehensive measurements to date of horizontal water vapor transport in atmospheric rivers (ARs). The CalWater experiment recently more than tripled the number of ARs probed with the required measurements. This study uses vertical profiles of water vapor, wind, and pressure obtained from 304 dropsondes across 21 ARs. On average, total water vapor transport (TIVT) in an AR was 4.7 × 108 ± 2 × 108 kg s−1. This magnitude is 2.6 times larger than the average discharge of liquid water from the Amazon River. The mean AR width was 890 ± 270 km. Subtropical ARs contained larger integrated water vapor (IWV) but weaker winds than midlatitude ARs, although average TIVTs were nearly the same. Mean TIVTs calculated by defining the lateral “edges” of ARs using an IVT threshold versus an IWV threshold produced results that differed by less than 10% across all cases, but did vary between the midlatitudes and subtropical regions.

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