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Atmospheric River Sectors: Definition and Characteristics Observed Using Dropsondes from 2014–20 CalWater and AR Recon

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  • 1 Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes (CW3E), Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California
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Abstract

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.

© 2021 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: A. Cobb, accobb@ucsd.edu

Abstract

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.

© 2021 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: A. Cobb, accobb@ucsd.edu
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