September 25, 2023
NOAA’s hurricane hunters at the moment are focusing on the West Coast’s atmospheric rivers

Editor’s Notice: A model of this text initially appeared within the weekly climate e-newsletter, the CNN Climate Temporary, which is launched each Monday. You may join right here to obtain them each week and through important storms.


NOAA’s hurricane hunters could be simply as busy now as they have been throughout hurricane season. Nonetheless, it’s not hurricanes they’re flying by, however the atmospheric river programs plaguing California since Christmas week.

Atmospheric rivers could not make headlines in the identical manner hurricanes do, however they’ll have excessive penalties.

“Atmospheric rivers can span the entire Pacific. They’re lengthy and slender, however they’re manner bigger than hurricanes,” Atmospheric River Reconnaissance Coordinator Anna Wilson mentioned.

They’re essential to the West Coast. Half the rain and snow the West will get comes from atmospheric rivers, that are plumes of moisture coming in from the Pacific Ocean. They usually cross an space with only a few commentary websites, making them difficult to forecast.

Till the previous couple of years, forecasters needed to rely solely on satellites and forecast fashions for forecasting atmospheric rivers, which might turn into very muddy with out actually understanding what’s occurring contained in the storms.

The College of California-San Diego, the Scripps Establishment of Oceanography, and the Heart for Western Climate and Water Extremes have teamed up with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters who’re in a position to drop devices referred to as “dropsondes” inside an atmospheric river, to relay pinpointed reside climate information. The data is straight away put into climate forecast fashions, which improves the accuracy of the forecast dramatically.

“With the dropsondes launched by the hurricane hunters, we get profiles of moisture, temperature, winds, within the decrease a part of the environment, that are actually vital for understanding the atmospheric river’s construction,” Wilson mentioned.

The data not solely improves the general data of what atmospheric rivers are able to, however improves quick forecasts.

“NOAA plane are flying in these climate programs and validating the fashions,” Captain Jason Mansour, pilot and plane commander of the NOAA Gulfstream IV Hurricane Hunter plane. “Then the NOAA Nationwide Climate Service is extra ready to foretell the place and when these programs will make impression and the way a lot of an impression that’s going to be.”

NOAA’s hurricane hunters at the moment are focusing on the West Coast’s atmospheric rivers

Mansour is a seasoned veteran of the hurricane hunters. He says the trip could be rather less bumpy for the atmospheric rivers, however the mission is similar.

“We’re successfully a part of the early warning system for the atmospheric rivers throughout the board,” Mansour defined.

Components of California have seen almost a foot of rain since Christmas weekend. San Francisco has acquired greater than 9 inches of rain, whereas Lake Tahoe has seen greater than 11 inches. Within the increased elevations, the snow totals have been staggering as nicely. Components of the Sierra have greater than twice the snowpack than they might usually see this time of 12 months. Mammoth Mountain has seen almost 120” of snowfall simply since December 26. And that’s not all.

This week will start the fourth week of consecutive rain and snow for California. The sequence of atmospheric river occasions, occurring in speedy succession, are being referred to by consultants as an “atmospheric river household.”

“Which principally means a sequence of them one after the opposite with perhaps a day or so in between,” Wilson defined. “If it got here by itself, it wouldn’t be massively impactful, however as a result of it got here on the heels of three different ones, it has a lot increased hydrologic impacts than it might in any other case.”

The West has been on the forefront of hydrological woes. Experiencing a mega-drought, leading to dry lake and riverbeds, intense wildfires and potential water shortages. The pendulum has now swung, and California is now dealing with excessive drought and excessive flooding concurrently, as the present rainfall gained’t clear up California’s drought.

“What we’d like with a view to get out of the drought just isn’t an insanely moist month the place a variety of that water just isn’t going to be savable due to runoff,” Wilson defined. “What we’d like is a few regular moist years, and it’s coming in a manner the place extra of it will probably percolate into the bottom.”

Wilson added she has seen the pendulum swing many occasions in California, however not like this.

“The swinging forwards and backwards is probably getting wider and wider,” Wilson mentioned. “California is thought for its unstable climate swings, however it does look like lately it’s been, like now, we’re going from this new report of dry to this new report of moist.”

The rain will proceed this week for the West, with no actual shut-off to the accessible moisture within the close to future.