Atmospheric rivers—long, narrow filaments of large integrated water vapour transport—are associated with weather and water extremes, such as precipitation extremes and flooding in western North America and northern Europe. Here we apply a global detection algorithm for atmospheric rivers to reanalysis data during 1997–2014 to investigate the impact of atmospheric rivers on wind extremes as well as precipitation extremes. We find that atmospheric rivers are associated with up to half of the extreme events in the top 2% of the precipitation and wind distribution, across most mid-latitude regions globally. Landfalling atmospheric rivers are associated with about 40–75% of extreme wind and precipitation events over 40% of the world’s coastlines. Atmospheric rivers are associated with a doubling or more of the typical wind speed compared to all storm conditions, and a 50–100% increase in the wind and precipitation values for extreme events. We also find that the majority of extreme wind events catalogued between 1997 and 2013 over Europe with billion US dollar losses were associated with atmospheric rivers. We conclude that landfalling atmospheric rivers can represent a significant hazard around the globe, because of their association with not only extreme precipitation, but also extreme winds.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $4.92 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Zhu, Y. & Newell, R. E. Atmospheric rivers and bombs. Geophys. Res. Lett. 21, 1999–2002 (1994).
Ralph, F. M. & Dettinger, M. D. Storms, floods, and the science of atmospheric rivers. Eos 92, 265–266 (2011).
Dettinger, M. D. & Ingram, B. L. The coming megafloods. Sci. Am. 308, 64–71 (2013).
Gimeno, L. et al. Major mechanisms of atmospheric moisture transport and their role in extreme precipitation events. Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 41, 117–141 (2016).
Ralph, F. M. et al. CalWater field studies designed to quantify the roles of atmospheric rivers and aerosols in modulating U.S. west coast precipitation in a changing climate. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 97, 1209–1228 (2016).
Dettinger, M. D., Ralph, F. M., Das, T., Neiman, P. J. & Cayan, D. R. Atmospheric rivers, floods and the water resources of California. Water 3, 445–478 (2011).
Rutz, J. J., Steenburgh, W. J. & Ralph, F. M. Climatological characteristics of atmospheric rivers and their inland penetration over the western United States. Mon. Weath. Rev. 142, 905–921 (2014).
Neiman, P. J. et al. The landfall and inland penetration of a flood-producing atmospheric river in Arizona. Part I: observed synoptic-scale, orographic, and hydrometeorological characteristics. J. Hydrometeorol. 14, 460–484 (2013).
Lavers, D. A. & Villarini, G. The nexus between atmospheric rivers and extreme precipitation across Europe. Geophys. Res. Lett. 40, 3259–3264 (2013).
Guan, B., Molotch, N. P., Waliser, D. E., Fetzer, E. J. & Neiman, P. J. The 2010/11 snow season in California’s Sierra Nevada: role of atmospheric rivers and modes of large-scale variability. Wat. Resour. Res. 49, 1–13 (2013).
Lavers, D. A. et al. Future changes in atmospheric rivers and their implications for winter flooding in Britain. Environ. Res. Lett. 8, 034010 (2013).
Dettinger, M. Climate change, atmospheric rivers, and floods in California - a multimodel analysis of storm frequency and magnitude changes. J. Am. Water Resour. Assoc. 47, 514–523 (2011).
Gao, Y., Lu, J. & Leung, R. Uncertainties in projecting future changes in atmospheric rivers and their impacts on heavy precipitation over Europe. J. Clim. 29, 6711–6726 (2016).
Guan, B. & Waliser, D. E. Detection of atmospheric rivers: evaluation and application of an algorithm for global studies. J. Geophys. Res. 120, 12514–12535 (2015).
Hagos, S. M., Leung, L. R., Yoon, J.-H., Lu, J. & Gao, Y. A projection of changes in landfalling atmospheric river frequency and extreme precipitation over western North America from the large ensemble CESM simulations. Geophys. Res. Lett. 43, 1357–1363 (2016).
Nayak, M. A., Villarini, G. & Lavers, D. A. On the skill of numerical weather prediction models to forecast atmospheric rivers over the central United States. Geophys. Res. Lett. 41, 4354–4362 (2014).
Lavers, D. A., Pappenberger, F. & Zsoter, E. Extending medium-range predictability of extreme hydrological events in Europe. Nat. Commun. 5, 5382 (2014).
Wick, G. A., Neiman, P. J., Ralph, F. M. & Hamill, T. M. Evaluation of forecasts of the water vapor signature of atmospheric rivers in operational numerical weather prediction models. Weath. Forecast. 28, 1337–1352 (2013).
Ralph, F. M. et al. Flooding on California’s Russian River: role of atmospheric rivers. Geophys. Res. Lett. 33, L13801 (2006).
Ralph, F. M. & Dettinger, M. D. Historical and national perspectives on extreme west coast precipitation associated with atmospheric rivers during December 2010. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 93, 783–790 (2011).
Neiman, P. J., Schick, L. J., Ralph, F. M., Hughes, M. & Wick, G. A. Flooding in western Washington: the connection to atmospheric rivers. J. Hydrometeorol. 12, 1337–1358 (2011).
Waliser, D. E. et al. The “year” of tropical convection (May 2008 to April 2010): climate variability and weather highlights. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 93, 1189–1218 (2012).
Martius, O., Pfahl, S. & Chevalier, C. A global quantification of compound precipitation and wind extremes. Geophys. Res. Lett. 43, 7709–7717 (2016).
Raveh-Rubin, S. & Wernli, H. Large-scale wind and precipitation extremes in the Mediterranean: a climatological analysis for 1979–2012. Q. J. R. Meteorol. Soc. 141, 2404–2417 (2015).
Fink, A. H., Brücher, T., Ermert, V., Krüger, A. & Pinto, J. G. The European storm Kyrill in January 2007: synoptic evolution, meteorological impacts and some considerations with respect to climate change. Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci. 9, 405–423 (2009).
Quevauviller, P. Hydrometeorological Hazards: Interfacing Science and Policy (Wiley, 2014).
Khouakhi, A. & Villarini, G. On the relationship between atmospheric rivers and high sea water levels along the U.S. west coast. Geophys. Res. Lett. 43, 8815–8822 (2016).
Klawa, M. & Ulbrich, U. A model for the estimation of storm losses and the identification of severe winter storms in Germany. Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci. 3, 725–732 (2003).
Neiman, P. J. et al. Diagnosis of an intense atmospheric river impacting the Pacific northwest: storm summary and offshore vertical structure observed with COSMIC satellite retrievals. Mon. Weath. Rev. 136, 4398–4420 (2008).
Dee, D. P. et al. The ERA-Interim reanalysis: configuration and performance of the data assimilation system. Q. J. R. Meteorol. Soc. 137, 553–597 (2011).
Wave Forecast Verification (Joint WMO-IOC Technical Commission for Oceanography and Marine Meteorology, 2016); http://www.jcomm.info/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=131&Itemid=37
Ranjha, R., Svensson, G., Tjernström, M. & Semedo, A. Global distribution and seasonal variability of coastal low-level jets derived from ERA-Interim reanalysis. Tellus 65, 20412 (2013).
Liu, Y., Zhang, W., Shao, Y. & Zhang, K. A comparison of four precipitation distribution models used in daily stochastic models. Adv. Atmos. Sci. 28, 809–820 (2011).
Guan, B., Waliser, D. E., Ralph, F. M., Fetzer, E. J. & Neiman, P. J. Hydrometeorological characteristics of rain-on-snow events associated with atmospheric rivers. Geophys. Res. Lett. 43, 2964–2973 (2016).
Saucier, W. J. Principles of Meteorological Analysis (Dover Publications, 2003).
Roberts, J. F. et al. The XWS open access catalogue of extreme European windstorms from 1979 to 2012. Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci. 14, 2487–2501 (2014).
Huffman, G. J. et al. Global precipitation at one-degree daily resolution from multisatellite observations. J. Hydrometeorol. 2, 36–50 (2001).
Hanley, J. & Caballero, R. The role of large-scale atmospheric flow and Rossby wave breaking in the evolution of extreme windstorms over Europe. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L21708 (2012).
This work was supported by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The contribution of D.W. was carried out on behalf of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with NASA.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
About this article
Cite this article
Waliser, D., Guan, B. Extreme winds and precipitation during landfall of atmospheric rivers. Nature Geosci 10, 179–183 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo2894
International Journal of Climatology (2021)
Journal of Water and Climate Change (2021)
Journal of Ocean University of China (2021)
Science of The Total Environment (2021)
Environmental Research Letters (2021)