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Extreme winds and precipitation during landfall of atmospheric rivers


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.

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Figure 1: AR fractions among wind and precipitation extremes.
Figure 2: ARs and coastal wind/precipitation extremes.
Figure 3: Probability distribution of wind speed/precipitation.
Figure 4: Socio-economic impacts of wind extremes.


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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.

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D.W. contributed the concept for the study, provided guidance on analysis and interpretation of results and figures, and contributed the majority of the writing. B.G. contributed all of the data analysis, provided guidance on analysis and interpretation of results and figures, and contributed to the writing.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Duane Waliser.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Waliser, D., Guan, B. Extreme winds and precipitation during landfall of atmospheric rivers. Nature Geosci 10, 179–183 (2017).

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