Atmospheric rivers (ARs) are characterized by intense moisture transport, which, on landfall, produce precipitation which can be both beneficial and destructive. ARs in California, for example, are known to have ended drought conditions but also to have caused substantial socio-economic damage from landslides and flooding linked to extreme precipitation. Understanding how AR characteristics will respond to a warming climate is, therefore, vital to the resilience of communities affected by them, such as the western USA, Europe, East Asia and South Africa. In this Review, we use a theoretical framework to synthesize understanding of the dynamic and thermodynamic responses of ARs to anthropogenic warming and connect them to observed and projected changes and impacts revealed by observations and complex models. Evidence suggests that increased atmospheric moisture (governed by Clausius–Clapeyron scaling) will enhance the intensity of AR-related precipitation — and related hydrological extremes — but with changes that are ultimately linked to topographic barriers. However, due to their dependency on both weather and climate-scale processes, which themselves are often poorly constrained, projections are uncertain. To build confidence and improve resilience, future work must focus efforts on characterizing the multiscale development of ARs and in obtaining observations from understudied regions, including the West Pacific, South Pacific and South Atlantic.
Atmospheric rivers are important components of the meridional transport of atmospheric moisture. They influence the hydroclimate of a number of regions in the mid-latitudes.
On land, atmospheric rivers are the source of both beneficial water resources and deleterious hazards (mudslides, floods and, in their absence on longer timescales, droughts).
The robust thermodynamic response of atmospheric moisture to climate change means that future atmospheric rivers will contain more moisture, but circulation changes and potential decreases in their precipitation efficiency must be considered in future impact studies.
At the global scale, much is still unknown about atmospheric rivers, including basic observations of their development, their interaction with large-scale dynamics and their role in short-duration, high-volume melt events over the Arctic and Antarctic.
Future research on the mechanisms driving atmospheric rivers and their life cycles will be a critical advancement for further quantifying their response to climate change.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution
Open Access articles citing this article.
Atmospheric rivers that make landfall in India are associated with flooding
Communications Earth & Environment Open Access 14 April 2023
Sea level rise from West Antarctic mass loss significantly modified by large snowfall anomalies
Nature Communications Open Access 17 March 2023
Asymmetric emergence of low-to-no snow in the midlatitudes of the American Cordillera
Nature Climate Change Open Access 14 November 2022
Access Nature and 54 other Nature Portfolio journals
Get Nature+, our best-value online-access subscription
$29.99 / 30 days
cancel any time
Subscribe to this journal
Receive 12 digital issues and online access to articles
$79.00 per year
only $6.58 per issue
Rent or buy this article
Get just this article for as long as you need it
Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout
Newell, R. E., Newell, N. E., Zhu, Y. & Scott, C. Tropospheric rivers? – A pilot study. Geophys. Res. Lett. 19, 2401–2404 (1992).
American Meteorological Society. Atmospheric River. Glossary of Meteorology. http://glossary.ametsoc.org/wiki/Atmospheric_river (2019).
Zhu, Y. & Newell, R. E. A proposed algorithm for moisture fluxes from atmospheric rivers. Mon. Weather Rev. 126, 725–735 (1998).
Newman, M., Kiladis, G. N., Weickmann, K. M., Ralph, F. M. & Sardeshmukh, P. D. Relative contributions of synoptic and low-frequency eddies to time-mean atmospheric moisture transport, including the role of atmospheric rivers. J. Clim. 25, 7341–7361 (2012).
Ralph, F. M. et al. Dropsonde observations of total integrated water vapor transport within North Pacific atmospheric rivers. J. Hydrometeorol. 18, 2577–2596 (2017).
Cordeira, J. M., Ralph, F. M. & Moore, B. J. The development and evolution of two atmospheric rivers in proximity to western North Pacific tropical cyclones in October 2010. Mon. Weather Rev. 141, 4234–4255 (2013).
Dacre, H. F., Clark, P. A., Martínez-Alvarado, O., Stringer, M. A. & Lavers, D. A. How do atmospheric rivers form? Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 96, 1243–1255 (2015).
Bao, J.-W., Michelson, S. A., Neiman, P. J., Ralph, F. M. & Wilczak, J. M. Interpretation of enhanced integrated water vapor bands associated with extratropical cyclones: their formation and connection to tropical moisture. Mon. Weather Rev. 134, 1063–1080 (2006).
Sodemann, H. & Stohl, A. Moisture origin and meridional transport in atmospheric rivers and their association with multiple cyclones. Mon. Weather Rev. 141, 2850–2868 (2013).
Garaboa-Paz, D., Eiras-Barca, J., Huhn, F. & Pérez-Muñuzuri, V. Lagrangian coherent structures along atmospheric rivers. Chaos 25, 063105 (2015).
Ramos, A. M., Tomé, R., Trigo, R. M., Liberato, M. L. R. & Pinto, J. G. Projected changes in atmospheric rivers affecting Europe in CMIP5 models. Geophys. Res. Lett. 43, 9315–9323 (2016).
Hu, H. & Dominguez, F. Understanding the role of tropical moisture in atmospheric rivers. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 124, 13826–13842 (2019).
Zhou, Y., Kim, H. & Guan, B. Life cycle of atmospheric rivers: identification and climatological characteristics. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 123, 12715–12725 (2018).
Guan, B. & Waliser, D. E. Tracking atmospheric rivers globally: spatial distributions and temporal evolution of life cycle characteristics. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 124, 12523–12552 (2019).
Shields, C. A. et al. Meridional heat transport during atmospheric rivers in high-resolution CESM climate projections. Geophys. Res. Lett. 46, 14702–14712 (2019).
Zhang, Z., Ralph, F. M. & Zheng, M. The relationship between extratropical cyclone strength and atmospheric river intensity and position. Geophys. Res. Lett. 46, 1814–1823 (2019).
Eiras-Barca, J. et al. The concurrence of atmospheric rivers and explosive cyclogenesis in the North Atlantic and North Pacific basins. Earth Syst. Dyn. 9, 91–102 (2018).
Dacre, H. F., Martínez-Alvarado, O. & Mbengue, C. O. Linking atmospheric rivers and warm conveyor belt airflows. J. Hydrometeorol. 20, 1183–1196 (2019).
Ralph, F. M., Neiman, P. J. & Rotunno, R. Dropsonde observations in low-level jets over the northeastern Pacific Ocean from CALJET-1998 and PACJET-2001: mean vertical-profile and atmospheric river characteristics. Mon. Weather Rev. 133, 889–910 (2005).
Rutz, J. J., Steenburgh, W. J. & Ralph, F. M. Climatological characteristics of atmospheric rivers and their inland penetration over the western United States. Mon. Weather Rev. 142, 905–921 (2014).
Guan, B. & Waliser, D. E. Detection of atmospheric rivers: evaluation and application of an algorithm for global studies. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 120, 12514–12535 (2015).
Lavers, D. A. & Villarini, G. The contribution of atmospheric rivers to precipitation in Europe and the United States. J. Hydrol. 522, 382–390 (2015).
Waliser, D. & Guan, B. Extreme winds and precipitation during landfall of atmospheric rivers. Nat. Geosci. 10, 179–183 (2017).
Ridder, N., de Vries, H. & Drijfhout, S. The role of atmospheric rivers in compound events consisting of heavy precipitation and high storm surges along the Dutch coast. Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci. 18, 3311–3326 (2018).
Kamae, Y., Mei, W. & Xie, S.-P. Climatological relationship between warm season atmospheric rivers and heavy rainfall over East Asia. J. Meteorol. Soc. Japan Ser. II 95, 411–431 (2017).
Viale, M. & Nuñez, M. N. Climatology of winter orographic precipitation over the subtropical central Andes and associated synoptic and regional characteristics. J. Hydrometeorol. 12, 481–507 (2011).
Garreaud, R. Warm winter storms in central Chile. J. Hydrometeorol. 14, 1515–1534 (2013).
Viale, M., Valenzuela, R., Garreaud, R. & Ralph, F. M. Impacts of atmospheric rivers on precipitation in southern South America. J. Hydrometeorol. 19, 1671–1687 (2018).
Blamey, R. C., Ramos, A. M., Trigo, R. M., Tomé, R. & Reason, C. J. C. The influence of atmospheric rivers over the South Atlantic on winter rainfall in South Africa. J. Hydrometeorol. 19, 127–142 (2018).
Neiman, P. J., Ralph, F. M., Wick, G. A., Lundquist, J. D. & Dettinger, M. D. Meteorological characteristics and overland precipitation impacts of atmospheric rivers affecting the West Coast of North America based on eight years of SSM/I satellite observations. J. Hydrometeorol. 9, 22–47 (2008).
Stohl, A., Forster, C. & Sodemann, H. Remote sources of water vapor forming precipitation on the Norwegian west coast at 60°N – a tale of hurricanes and an atmospheric river. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 113, D05102 (2008).
Lavers, D. A. et al. Winter floods in Britain are connected to atmospheric rivers. Geophys. Res. Lett. 38, L23803 (2011).
Lavers, D. A., Villarini, G., Allan, R. P., Wood, E. F. & Wade, A. J. The detection of atmospheric rivers in atmospheric reanalyses and their links to British winter floods and the large-scale climatic circulation. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 117, D20106 (2012).
Lavers, D. A. & Villarini, G. The nexus between atmospheric rivers and extreme precipitation across Europe. Geophys. Res. Lett. 40, 3259–3264 (2013).
Ramos, A. M., Trigo, R. M., Liberato, M. L. R. & Tomé, R. Daily precipitation extreme events in the Iberian Peninsula and its association with atmospheric rivers. J. Hydrometeorol. 16, 579–597 (2015).
Brands, S., Gutiérrez, J. M. & San-Martín, D. Twentieth-century atmospheric river activity along the west coasts of Europe and North America: algorithm formulation, reanalysis uncertainty and links to atmospheric circulation patterns. Clim. Dyn. 48, 2771–2795 (2017).
Hirota, N., Takayabu, Y. N., Kato, M. & Arakane, S. Roles of an atmospheric river and a cutoff low in the extreme precipitation event in Hiroshima on 19 august 2014. Mon. Weather Rev. 144, 1145–1160 (2016).
Kingston, D. G., Lavers, D. A. & Hannah, D. M. Floods in the Southern Alps of New Zealand: the importance of atmospheric rivers. Hydrol. Process. 30, 5063–5070 (2016).
Little, K., Kingston, D. G., Cullen, N. J. & Gibson, P. B. The role of atmospheric rivers for extreme ablation and snowfall events in the Southern Alps of New Zealand. Geophys. Res. Lett. 46, 2761–2771 (2019).
Lavers, D. A. & Villarini, G. Atmospheric rivers and flooding over the central United States. J. Clim. 26, 7829–7836 (2013).
Mahoney, K. et al. Understanding the role of atmospheric rivers in heavy precipitation in the southeast United States. Mon. Weather Rev. 144, 1617–1632 (2016).
Mo, R. & Lin, H. Tropical–mid-latitude interactions: case study of an inland-penetrating atmospheric river during a major winter storm over North America. Atmosphere-Ocean 57, 208–232 (2019).
Lorente-Plazas, R. et al. Unusual atmospheric-river-like structures coming from Africa induce extreme precipitation over western Mediterranean Sea. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 125, e2019JD031280 (2020).
Gorodetskaya, I. V. et al. The role of atmospheric rivers in anomalous snow accumulation in East Antarctica. Geophys. Res. Lett. 41, 6199–6206 (2014).
Woods, C., Caballero, R. & Svensson, G. Large-scale circulation associated with moisture intrusions into the Arctic during winter. Geophys. Res. Lett. 40, 4717–4721 (2013).
Bozkurt, D., Rondanelli, R., Marín, J. C. & Garreaud, R. Foehn event triggered by an atmospheric river underlies record-setting temperature along continental Antarctica. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 123, 3871–3892 (2018).
Turner, J. et al. The dominant role of extreme precipitation events in Antarctic snowfall variability. Geophys. Res. Lett. 46, 3502–3511 (2019).
Nash, D., Waliser, D., Guan, B., Ye, H. & Ralph, F. M. The role of atmospheric rivers in extratropical and polar hydroclimate. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 123, 6804–6821 (2018).
Komatsu, K. K., Alexeev, V. A., Repina, I. A. & Tachibana, Y. Poleward upgliding Siberian atmospheric rivers over sea ice heat up arctic upper air. Sci. Rep. 8, 2872 (2018).
Hegyi, B. M. & Taylor, P. C. The unprecedented 2016–2017 Arctic sea ice growth season: the crucial role of atmospheric rivers and longwave fluxes. Geophys. Res. Lett. 45, 5204–5212 (2018).
Wille, J. D. et al. West Antarctic surface melt triggered by atmospheric rivers. Nat. Geosci. 12, 911–916 (2019).
Dettinger, M. D. 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).
Ralph, F. M., Coleman, T. A., Neiman, P. J., Zamora, R. J. & Dettinger, M. D. Observed impacts of duration and seasonality of atmospheric river landfalls on soil moisture and runoff in coastal northern California. J. Hydrometeorol. 14, 443–459 (2013).
Ralph, F. M. et al. A scale to characterize the strength and impacts of atmospheric rivers. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 100, 269–289 (2019).
Payne, A. E. & Magnusdottir, G. Dynamics of landfalling atmospheric rivers over the North Pacific in 30 years of MERRA reanalysis. J. Clim. 27, 7133–7150 (2014).
Fish, M. A., Wilson, A. M. & Raph, F. M. Atmospheric river families: definition and associated synoptic conditions. J. Hydrometeorol. 20, 2091–2108 (2019).
White, A. B., Moore, B. J., Gottas, D. J. & Neiman, P. J. Winter storm conditions leading to excessive runoff above California’s Oroville Dam during January and February 2017. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 100, 55–70 (2019).
Hendy, I. L., Napier, T. J. & Schimmelmann, A. From extreme rainfall to drought: 250 years of annually resolved sediment deposition in Santa Barbara Basin, California. Quat. Int. 387, 3–12 (2015).
Du, X., Hendy, I. & Schimmelmann, A. A 9000-year flood history for Southern California: a revised stratigraphy of varved sediments in Santa Barbara Basin. Mar. Geol. 397, 29–42 (2018).
Gonzales, K. R., Swain, D. L., Nardi, K. M., Barnes, E. A. & Diffenbaugh, N. S. Recent warming of landfalling atmospheric rivers along the west coast of the United States. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 124, 6810–6826 (2019).
Siler, N. & Roe, G. How will orographic precipitation respond to surface warming? An idealized thermodynamic perspective. Geophys. Res. Lett. 41, 2606–2613 (2014).
O’Gorman, P. A. & Schneider, T. The physical basis for increases in precipitation extremes in simulations of 21st-century climate change. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 106, 14773–14777 (2009).
Kirshbaum, D. J. & Smith, R. B. Orographic precipitation in the tropics: large-eddy simulations and theory. J. Atmos. Sci. 66, 2559–2578 (2009).
Gao, Y. et al. Dynamical and thermodynamical modulations on future changes of landfalling atmospheric rivers over western North America. Geophys. Res. Lett. 42, 7179–7186 (2015).
Lavers, D. A. et al. Future changes in atmospheric rivers and their implications for winter flooding in Britain. Environ. Res. Lett. 8, 034010 (2013).
Gao, Y., Lu, J. & Leung, L. R. Uncertainties in projecting future changes in atmospheric rivers and their impacts on heavy precipitation over Europe. J. Clim. 29, 6711–6726 (2016).
Kaplan, M. et al. The role of upstream mid-tropospheric circulations in the Sierra Nevada enabling leeside (spillover) precipitation. Part II: A secondary atmospheric river accompanying a midlevel jet. J. Hydrometeorol. 10, 1327–1354 (2009).
Backes, T., Kaplan, M. L., Schumer, R. & Mejia, J. F. A climatology of the vertical structure of water vapor transport to the Sierra Nevada in cool season atmospheric river precipitation events. J. Hydrometeorol. 16, 1029–1047 (2015).
Shepherd, T. G. Atmospheric circulation as a source of uncertainty in climate change projections. Nat. Geosci. 7, 703–708 (2014).
Vallis, G. K., Zurita-Gotor, P., Cairns, C. & Kidston, J. Response of the large-scale structure of the atmosphere to global warming. Q. J. R. Meteorol. Soc. 141, 1479–1501 (2015).
Butler, A. H., Thompson, D. W. J. & Heikes, R. The steady-state atmospheric circulation response to climate change–like thermal forcings in a simple general circulation model. J. Clim. 23, 3474–3496 (2010).
Screen, J. A. & Simmonds, I. The central role of diminishing sea ice in recent Arctic temperature amplification. Nature 464, 1334–1337 (2010).
Stuecker, M. F. et al. Polar amplification dominated by local forcing and feedbacks. Nat. Clim. Change 8, 1076–1081 (2018).
Held, I. M. Large-scale dynamics and global warming. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 74, 228–242 (1993).
Shaw, T. & Voigt, A. Tug of war on summertime circulation between radiative forcing and sea-surface warming. Nat. Geosci. 8, 560–566 (2015).
Deser, C., Tomas, R. A. & Sun, L. The role of ocean–atmosphere coupling in the zonal-mean atmospheric response to Arctic sea ice loss. J. Clim. 28, 2168–2186 (2015).
Barnes, E. A. & Screen, J. A. The impact of Arctic warming on the midlatitude jet-stream: Can it? Has it? Will it? WIREs Clim. Change 6, 277–286 (2015).
Barnes, E. A. & Polvani, L. Response of the midlatitude jets, and of their variability, to increased greenhouse gases in the CMIP5 models. J. Clim. 26, 7117–7135 (2013).
Lu, J., Vecchi, G. A. & Reichler, T. Expansion of the Hadley cell under global warming. Geophys. Res. Lett. 34, L06805 (2007).
Frierson, D. M. W., Lu, J. & Chen, G. Width of the Hadley cell in simple and comprehensive general circulation models. Geophys. Res. Lett. 34, L06804 (2007).
Yin, J. H. A consistent poleward shift of the storm tracks in simulations of 21st century climate. Geophys. Res. Lett. 32, L18701 (2005).
Chang, E. K. M., Guo, Y. & Xia, X. CMIP5 multimodel ensemble projection of storm track change under global warming. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 117, D23118 (2012).
Willison, J., Robinson, W. A. & Lackmann, G. M. The importance of resolving mesoscale latent heating in the North Atlantic storm track. J. Atmos. Sci. 70, 2234–2250 (2013).
Li, M., Woollings, T., Hodges, K. & Masato, G. Extratropical cyclones in a warmer, moister climate: A recent Atlantic analogue. Geophys. Res. Lett. 41, 8594–8601 (2014).
Nusbaumer, J. & Noone, D. Numerical evaluation of the modern and future origins of atmospheric river moisture over the west coast of the United States. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 123, 6423–6442 (2018).
Pendergrass, A. G. What precipitation is extreme? Science 360, 1072 (2018).
O’Gorman, P. A. Precipitation extremes under climate change. Curr. Clim. Change Rep. 1, 49–59 (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).
Benedict, I., Ødemark, K., Nipen, T. & Moore, R. Large-scale flow patterns associated with extreme precipitation and atmospheric rivers over Norway. Mon. Weather Rev. 147, 1415–1428 (2019).
Guan, B., Molotch, N. P., Waliser, D. E., Fetzer, E. J. & Neiman, P. J. Extreme snowfall events linked to atmospheric rivers and surface air temperature via satellite measurements. Geophys. Res. Lett. 37, L20401 (2010).
Smith, B. L., Yuter, S. E., Neiman, P. J. & Kingsmill, D. E. Water vapor fluxes and orographic precipitation over northern California associated with a landfalling atmospheric river. Mon. Weather. Rev. 138, 74–100 (2010).
Hecht, C. W. & Cordeira, J. M. Characterizing the influence of atmospheric river orientation and intensity on precipitation distributions over North Coastal California. Geophys. Res. Lett. 44, 9048–9058 (2017).
Valenzuela, R. A. & Garreaud, R. D. Extreme daily rainfall in central-southern Chile and its relationship with low-level horizontal water vapor fluxes. J. Hydrometeorol. 20, 1829–1850 (2019).
Westra, S., Alexander, L. V. & Zwiers, F. W. Global increasing trends in annual maximum daily precipitation. J. Clim. 26, 3904–3918 (2013).
Liu, C. et al. Continental-scale convection-permitting modeling of the current and future climate of North America. Clim. Dyn. 49, 71–95 (2017).
Shi, X. & Durran, D. R. The response of orographic precipitation over idealized midlatitude mountains due to global increases in CO2. J. Clim. 27, 3938–3956 (2014).
Pavelsky, T. M., Sobolowski, S., Kapnick, S. B. & Barnes, J. B. Changes in orographic precipitation patterns caused by a shift from snow to rain. Geophys. Res. Lett. 39, L18706 (2012).
Sandvik, M. I., Sorteberg, A. & Rasmussen, R. Sensitivity of historical orographically enhanced extreme precipitation events to idealized temperature perturbations. Clim. Dyn. 50, 143–157 (2018).
Haarsma, R. J. et al. High resolution model intercomparison project (HighResMIP v1.0) for CMIP6. Geosci. Model Dev. 9, 4185–4208 (2016).
Mahoney, K. et al. An examination of an inland-penetrating atmospheric river flood event under potential future thermodynamic conditions. J. Clim. 31, 6281–6297 (2018).
Shi, X. & Durran, D. Sensitivities of extreme precipitation to global warming are lower over mountains than over oceans and plains. J. Clim. 29, 4779–4791 (2016).
Swain, D. L., Langenbrunner, B., Neelin, J. D. & Hall, A. Increasing precipitation volatility in twenty-first-century California. Nat. Clim. Change 8, 427–433 (2018).
Gershunov, A., Shulgina, T., Ralph, F. M., Lavers, D. A. & Rutz, J. J. Assessing the climate-scale variability of atmospheric rivers affecting western North America. Geophys. Res. Lett. 44, 7900–7908 (2017).
Sharma, A., Wasko, C. & Lettenmaier, D. P. If precipitation extremes are increasing, why aren’t floods? Water Resour. Res. 54, 8545–8551 (2018).
Wang, G., Power, S. B. & McGree, S. Unambiguous warming in the western tropical Pacific primarily caused by anthropogenic forcing. Int. J. Climatol. 36, 933–944 (2016).
Sharma, A. R. & Déry, S. J. Variability and trends of landfalling atmospheric rivers along the Pacific Coast of northwestern North America. Int. J. Climatol. 40, 544–558 (2020).
Espinoza, V., Waliser, D. E., Guan, B., Lavers, D. A. & Ralph, F. M. Global analysis of climate change projection effects on atmospheric rivers. Geophys. Res. Lett. 45, 4299–4308 (2018).
Payne, A. E. & Magnusdottir, G. An evaluation of atmospheric rivers over the North Pacific in CMIP5 and their response to warming under RCP 8.5. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 120, 11173–11190 (2015).
Radiĉ, V., Cannon, A. J., Menounos, B. & Gi, N. Future changes in autumn atmospheric river events in British Columbia, Canada, as projected by CMIP5 global climate models. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 120, 9279–9302 (2015).
Shields, C. A. & Kiehl, J. T. Atmospheric river landfall-latitude changes in future climate simulations. Geophys. Res. Lett. 43, 8775–8782 (2016).
Shields, C. A. & Kiehl, J. T. Simulating the pineapple express in the half degree community climate system model, CCSM4. Geophys. Res. Lett. 43, 7767–7773 (2016).
Sousa, P. M., Blamey, R. C., Reason, C. J. C., Ramos, A. M. & Trigo, R. M. The ‘Day Zero’ Cape Town drought and the poleward migration of moisture corridors. Environ. Res. Lett. 13, 124025 (2018).
Warner, M. D., Mass, C. F. & Salathé, E. P. Jr. Changes in winter atmospheric rivers along the North American west coast in CMIP5 climate models. J. Hydrometeorol. 16, 118–128 (2015).
Polade, S. D., Gershunov, A., Cayan, D. R., Dettinger, M. D. & Pierce, D. W. Precipitation in a warming world: Assessing projected hydro-climate changes in California and other Mediterranean climate regions. Sci. Rep. 7, 10783 (2017).
Sousa, P. M. et al. North Atlantic integrated water vapor transport–from 850 to 2100 CE: impacts on western European rainfall. J. Clim. 33, 263–279 (2020).
Dong, L., Leung, L. R. & Song, F. Future changes of subseasonal precipitation variability in North America during winter under global warming. Geophys. Res. Lett. 45, 12467–12476 (2018).
Dong, L., Leung, L. R., Lu, J. & Gao, Y. Contributions of extreme and non-extreme precipitation to California precipitation seasonality changes under warming. Geophys. Res. Lett. 46, 13470–13478 (2019).
Paltan, H. et al. Global floods and water availability driven by atmospheric rivers. Geophys. Res. Lett. 44, 10387–10395 (2017).
Barth, N. A., Villarini, G. & White, K. Accounting for mixed populations in flood frequency analysis: a Bulletin 17C perspective. J. Hydrol. Eng. 24, 04019002 (2019).
Barth, N. A., Villarini, G., Nayak, M. A. & White, K. Mixed populations and annual flood frequency estimates in the western United States: the role of atmospheric rivers. Water Resour. Res. 53, 257–269 (2017).
Ralph, F. M. et al. Flooding on California’s Russian River: role of atmospheric rivers. Geophys. Res. Lett. 33, L13801 (2006).
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).
Khouakhi, A. & Villarini, G. On the relationship between atmospheric rivers and high sea water levels along the US West Coast. Geophys. Res. Lett. 43, 8815–8822 (2016).
Demaria, E. M. C. et al. Observed hydrologic impacts of landfalling atmospheric rivers in the Salt and Verde river basins of Arizona, United States. Water Resour. Res. 53, 10025–10042 (2017).
Nayak, M.A. & Villarini, G. A long-term perspective of the hydroclimatological impacts of atmospheric rivers over the central United States. Water Resour. Res. 53, 1144–1166. (2017).
Dirmeyer, P. A. & Kinter, J. L. III The “maya express”: floods in the US Midwest. EOS Trans. 90, 101–102 (2009).
Moore, B. J., Neiman, P. J., Ralph, F. M. & Barthold, F. E. Physical processes associated with heavy flooding rainfall in Nashville, Tennessee, and vicinity during 1–2 May 2010: the role of an atmospheric river and mesoscale convective systems. Mon. Weather. Rev. 140, 358–378 (2012).
Azad, R. & Sorteberg, A. Extreme daily precipitation in coastal western Norway and the link to atmospheric rivers. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 122, 2080–2095 (2017).
Ramos, A. M., Martins, M. J., Tomé, R. & Trigo, R. M. Extreme precipitation events in summer in the Iberian Peninsula and its relationship with atmospheric rivers. Front. Earth Sci. 6, 110 (2018).
Zscheischler, J. et al. Future climate risk from compound events. Nat. Clim. Change 8, 469–477 (2018).
Rössler, O. et al. Retrospective analysis of a nonforecasted rain-on-snow flood in the Alps – a matter of model limitations or unpredictable nature? Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. 18, 2265–2285 (2014).
Oakley, N. S., Lancaster, J. T., Kaplan, M. L. & Ralph, F. M. Synoptic conditions associated with cool season post-fire debris flows in the Transverse Ranges of southern California. Nat. Hazards 88, 327–354 (2017).
Oakley, N. S. et al. A 22-year climatology of cool season hourly precipitation thresholds conducive to shallow landslides in California. Earth Interact. 22, 1–35 (2018).
Dettinger, M. D. Atmospheric rivers as drought busters on the US West Coast. J. Hydrometeorol. 14, 1721–1732 (2013).
Wang, S. Y. S., Yoon, J.-H., Becker, E. & Gillies, R. California from drought to deluge. Nat. Clim. Change 7, 465–468 (2017).
Hu, H., Dominguez, F., Kumar, P., McDonnell, J. & Gochis, D. A numerical water tracer model for understanding event-scale hydrometeorological phenomena. J. Hydrometeorol. 19, 947–967 (2018).
Leung, L. R. & Qian, Y. Atmospheric rivers induced heavy precipitation and flooding in the western US simulated by the WRF regional climate model. Geophys. Res. Lett. 36, L03820 (2009).
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).
Chen, X., Leung, L. R., Wigmosta, M. & Richmond, M. Impact of atmospheric rivers on surface hydrological processes in western US watersheds. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 124, 8896–8916 (2019).
Leung, L. R. et al. Mid-century ensemble regional climate change scenarios for the western United States. Clim. Change 62, 75–113 (2004).
Barnett, T. P., Adam, J. C. & Lettenmaier, D. P. Potential impacts of a warming climate on water availability in snow-dominated regions. Nature 438, 303–309 (2005).
Rauscher, S. A., Pal, J. S., Diffenbaugh, N. S. & Benedetti, M. M. Future changes in snowmelt-driven runoff timing over the western US. Geophys. Res. Lett. 35, L16703 (2008).
Gobiet, A. et al. 21st century climate change in the European Alps - a review. Sci. Total. Environ. 493, 1138–1151 (2014).
Musselman, K. N., Clark, M. P., Liu, C., Ikeda, K. & Rasmussen, R. Slower snowmelt in a warmer world. Nat. Clim. Change 7, 214–219 (2017).
Cohen, J., Ye, H. & Jones, J. Trends and variability in rain-on-snow events. Geophys. Res. Lett. 42, 7115–7122 (2015).
Musselman, K. N. et al. Projected increases and shifts in rain-on-snow flood risk over western North America. Nat. Clim. Change 8, 808–812 (2018).
Huang, X., Hall, A. D. & Berg, N. Anthropogenic warming impacts on today’s Sierra Nevada snowpack and flood risk. Geophys. Res. Lett. 45, 6215–6222 (2018).
Islam, S. U., Curry, C. L., Déry, S. J. & Zwiers, F. W. Quantifying projected changes in runoff variability and flow regimes of the Fraser River Basin, British Columbia. Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. 23, 811–828 (2019).
Curry, C. L., Islam, S. U., Zwiers, F. W. & Déry, S. J. Atmospheric rivers increase future flood risk in Western Canada’s largest pacific river. Geophys. Res. Lett. 46, 1651–1661 (2019).
Singh, I., Dominguez, F., Demaria, E. & Walter, J. Extreme landfalling atmospheric river events in Arizona: Possible future changes. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 123, 7076–7097 (2018).
Hu, H. et al. Linking atmospheric river hydrological impacts on the US West Coast to Rossby wave breaking. J. Clim. 30, 3381–3399 (2017).
Corringham, T. W., Ralph, F. M., Gershunov, A., Cayan, D. R. & Talbot, C. A. Atmospheric rivers drive flood damages in the western United States. Sci. Adv. 5, eaax4631 (2019).
Hatchett, B. J. et al. Avalanche fatalities during atmospheric river events in the western United States. J. Hydrometeorol. 18, 1359–1374 (2017).
Dominguez, F. et al. Tracking an atmospheric river in a warmer climate: from water vapor to economic impacts. Earth Syst. Dyn. 9, 249–266 (2018).
Shields, C. A. et al. Atmospheric river tracking method intercomparison project (ARTMIP): project goals and experimental design. Geosci. Model Dev. 11, 2455–2474 (2018).
Rutz, J. J. et al. The atmospheric river tracking method intercomparison project (ARTMIP): quantifying uncertainties in atmospheric river climatology. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 124, 13777–13802 (2019).
Delworth, T. L. et al. Simulated climate and climate change in the GFDL CM2.5 high-resolution coupled climate model. J. Clim. 25, 2755–2781 (2012).
Kinter, J. L. et al. Revolutionizing climate modeling with Project Athena: a multi-institutional, international collaboration. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 94, 231–245 (2013).
Mizielinski, M. S. et al. High resolution global climate modelling; the UPSCALE project, a large simulation campaign. Geosci. Model Dev. 7, 1629–1640 (2014).
Small, R. J. et al. A new synoptic scale resolving global climate simulation using the Community Earth System Model. J. Adv. Modeling Earth Syst. 6, 1065–1094 (2014).
Wehner, M. F. et al. The effect of horizontal resolution on simulation quality in the community atmospheric model, CAM5.1. J. Adv. Model. Earth Syst. 6, 980–997 (2014).
Kamae, Y., Mei, W. & Xie, S.-P. Ocean warming pattern effects on future changes in East Asian atmospheric rivers. Environ. Res. Lett. 14, 054019 (2019).
Hagos, S., Leung, L. R., Yang, Q., Zhao, C. & Lu, J. Resolution and dynamical core dependence of atmospheric river frequency in global model simulations. J. Clim. 28, 2764–2776 (2015).
Guan, B. & Waliser, D. E. Atmospheric rivers in 20 year weather and climate simulations: A multimodel, global evaluation. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 122, 5556–5581 (2017).
Roberts, M. J. et al. The benefits of global high resolution for climate simulation: process understanding and the enabling of stakeholder decisions at the regional scale. Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 99, 2341–2359 (2018).
Roberts, M. J. et al. Description of the resolution hierarchy of the global coupled HadGEM3-GC3.1 model as used in CMIP6 HighResMIP experiments. Geosci. Model Dev. 12 4999–5028 (2019).
Roberts, M. MOHC HadGEM3-GC31-HM model output prepared for CMIP6 HighResMIP hist-1950. Version YYYYMMDD. Earth Syst. Grid Federation, https://doi.org/10.22033/ESGF/CMIP6.6040 (2018).
Demory, M.-E. et al. The role of horizontal resolution in simulating drivers of the global hydrological cycle. Clim. Dyn. 42, 2201–2225 (2014).
Lu, J. et al. Toward the dynamical convergence on the jet stream in aquaplanet AGCMs. J. Clim. 28, 6763–6782 (2015).
Vannière, B. et al. Multi-model evaluation of the sensitivity of the global energy budget and hydrological cycle to resolution. Clim. Dyn. 52, 6817–6846 (2019).
van Haren, R., Haarsma, R. J., van Oldenborgh, G. J. & Hazeleger, W. Resolution dependence of European precipitation in a state-of-the-art atmospheric general circulation model. J. Clim. 28, 5134–5149 (2015).
Schiemann, R. et al. Mean and extreme precipitation over European river basins better simulated in a 25 km AGCM. Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci. 22, 3933–3950 (2018).
Goldenson, N., Leung, L. R., Bitz, C. M. & Blanchard-Wrigglesworth, E. Influence of atmospheric rivers on mountain snowpack in the western United States. J. Clim. 31, 9921–9940 (2018).
Mundhenk, B. D., Barnes, E. A., Maloney, E. D. & Baggett, C. F. Skillful empirical subseasonal prediction of landfalling atmospheric river activity using the Madden–Julian oscillation and quasi-biennial oscillation. npj Clim. Atmos. Sci. 1, 20177 (2018).
Richter, J. H., Solomon, A. & Bacmeister, J. T. On the simulation of the quasi-biennial oscillation in the Community Atmosphere Model, version 5. J. Geophys. Res. Atmos. 119, 3045–3062 (2014).
Stone, D. A. et al. Experiment design of the International CLIVAR C20C+ Detection and Attribution project. Weather Clim. Extremes 24, 100206 (2019).
Gershunov, A. et al. Precipitation regime change in Western North America: the role of atmospheric rivers. Sci. Rep. 9, 9944 (2019).
Mallakpour, I., Sadegh, M. & AghaKouchak, A. A new normal for streamflow in California in a warming climate: wetter wet seasons and drier dry seasons. J. Hydrol. 567, 203–211 (2018).
Pierce, D. W. et al. The key role of heavy precipitation events in climate model disagreements of future annual precipitation changes in California. J. Clim. 26, 5879–5896 (2013).
Loikith, P. C. et al. A climatology of daily synoptic circulation patterns and associated surface meteorology over southern South America. Clim. Dyn. 53, 4019–4035 (2019).
Pasquier, J. T., Pfahl, S. & Grams, C. M. Modulation of atmospheric river occurrence and associated precipitation extremes in the North Atlantic Region by European weather regimes. Geophys. Res. Lett. 46, 1014–1023 (2019).
Lavers, D. A., Ralph, F. M., Waliser, D. E., Gershunov, A. & Dettinger, M. D. Climate change intensification of horizontal water vapor transport in CMIP5. Geophys. Res. Lett. 42, 5617–5625 (2015).
Mattingly, K. S., Ramseyer, C. A., Rosen, J. J., Mote, T. L. & Muthyala, R. Increasing water vapor transport to the Greenland Ice Sheet revealed using self-organizing maps. Geophys. Res. Lett. 43, 9250–9258 (2016).
L.R.L. and C.A.S. (NCAR via NSF IA 1947282) are supported by the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science Biological and Environmental Research as part of the Earth and Environmental System Modeling Regional and Global Model Analysis program area. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is operated for the Department of Energy by Battelle Memorial Institute under contract DE-AC05-75RL01830. The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) is sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) under Cooperative Agreement 1852977. G.V. is supported by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Institute for Water Resources. A.M.R. is supported by the Scientific Employment Stimulus 2017 from FCT (CEECIND/00027/2017). Atmospheric River Tracking Method Intercomparison Project (ARTMIP) is a grass-roots community effort and has received support from the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science Biological and Environmental Research as part of the Regional and Global Climate Modeling Program, and the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes at Scripps Institute for Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Peer review information
Nature Reviews Earth & Environment thanks Y. Kamae, F. Dominguez, V. Espinoza and M. Nayak for their contribution to the peer review of this work.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Rights and permissions
About this article
Cite this article
Payne, A.E., Demory, ME., Leung, L.R. et al. Responses and impacts of atmospheric rivers to climate change. Nat Rev Earth Environ 1, 143–157 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43017-020-0030-5
This article is cited by
Atmospheric rivers that make landfall in India are associated with flooding
Communications Earth & Environment (2023)
Sea level rise from West Antarctic mass loss significantly modified by large snowfall anomalies
Nature Communications (2023)
More frequent atmospheric rivers slow the seasonal recovery of Arctic sea ice
Nature Climate Change (2023)
Climate change-induced influences on the nonlinear dynamic patterns of precipitation and temperatures (case study: Central England)
Theoretical and Applied Climatology (2023)
Long-term trends in atmospheric rivers over East Asia
Climate Dynamics (2023)