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A Climatology of Atmospheric Rivers and Associated Precipitation for the Seven U.S. National Climate Assessment Regions

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  • 1 Department of Geography, Portland State University, Portland, Oregon
  • 2 Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California
  • 3 Joint Institute for Regional Earth System Science and Engineering, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California
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Abstract

Atmospheric rivers (ARs) are long, narrow filamentary regions of enhanced vertically integrated water vapor transport (IVT) that play an important role in regional water supply and hydrometeorological extremes. Here, an AR detection algorithm is applied to global reanalysis from Modern-Era Retrospective Analysis for Research and Applications, version 2 (MERRA-2), to objectively and consistently characterize ARs regionally across the continental United States (CONUS). The characteristics of AR and associated precipitation are computed at the gridpoint scale and summarized over the seven U.S. National Climate Assessment regions. ARs are most frequent in the autumn and winter in the West, spring in the Great Plains, and autumn in the Midwest and Northeast. ARs show regional and seasonal variability in basic geometry and IVT. AR IVT composites reveal annually consistent northeastward-directed moisture transport from the Pacific Ocean in the West, whereas moisture transport patterns vary seasonally across the Southern Great Plains and Midwest. Linked AR precipitation characteristics suggest that a substantial proportion of extreme events, defined as the top 5% of 3-day precipitation totals, are associated with ARs over many parts of CONUS, including the East. Regional patterns of AR-associated precipitation highlight that seasonally varying moisture transport and lifting mechanisms differ between the East and the West where orographic lifting is key. Our study aims to contribute a comprehensive and consistent CONUS-wide, regional-scale analysis of ARs in support of ongoing NCA efforts. Given the CONUS-wide role ARs play in extreme precipitation, findings motivate continued study of associated climate change impacts.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: https://doi.org/10.1175/JHM-D-20-0039.s1.

© 2020 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Emily A. Slinskey, slinskey@pdx.edu

Abstract

Atmospheric rivers (ARs) are long, narrow filamentary regions of enhanced vertically integrated water vapor transport (IVT) that play an important role in regional water supply and hydrometeorological extremes. Here, an AR detection algorithm is applied to global reanalysis from Modern-Era Retrospective Analysis for Research and Applications, version 2 (MERRA-2), to objectively and consistently characterize ARs regionally across the continental United States (CONUS). The characteristics of AR and associated precipitation are computed at the gridpoint scale and summarized over the seven U.S. National Climate Assessment regions. ARs are most frequent in the autumn and winter in the West, spring in the Great Plains, and autumn in the Midwest and Northeast. ARs show regional and seasonal variability in basic geometry and IVT. AR IVT composites reveal annually consistent northeastward-directed moisture transport from the Pacific Ocean in the West, whereas moisture transport patterns vary seasonally across the Southern Great Plains and Midwest. Linked AR precipitation characteristics suggest that a substantial proportion of extreme events, defined as the top 5% of 3-day precipitation totals, are associated with ARs over many parts of CONUS, including the East. Regional patterns of AR-associated precipitation highlight that seasonally varying moisture transport and lifting mechanisms differ between the East and the West where orographic lifting is key. Our study aims to contribute a comprehensive and consistent CONUS-wide, regional-scale analysis of ARs in support of ongoing NCA efforts. Given the CONUS-wide role ARs play in extreme precipitation, findings motivate continued study of associated climate change impacts.

Supplemental information related to this paper is available at the Journals Online website: https://doi.org/10.1175/JHM-D-20-0039.s1.

© 2020 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Emily A. Slinskey, slinskey@pdx.edu

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