Scientists are seeking to enhance their forecasts by flying across "atmospheric rivers"
Despite their name, atmospheric rivers can be devastating and cause widespread damage, as they are massive, fast-moving, and drenching storms that arrive with strong winds, heavy rains, and thick snow. The US West has been hit by multiple atmospheric rivers since December, with the latest one hitting on March 15th and another expected in the coming week. Despite their impact, these storms can be difficult to predict, with about a week's warning being the best forecasters can currently offer.
To improve forecasting and provide more preparation time for those in the path of these storms, a team of scientists has flown more than three dozen reconnaissance missions into the storms over the past few months.
They've also launched dozens of weather balloons carrying instruments to measure various weather parameters, analyzed data, and run hundreds of computer simulations. Ultimately, their goal is to improve predictions and find ways to manage water during the region's drier months.
This is a significant challenge, especially during this year's active season, with December, January, February, and March seeing a relentless barrage of storms, including nine atmospheric rivers that dumped record rain and snow across Western US and Canada. California alone saw over 121 billion metric tons of water falling during December and January.
Moreover, this task is likely to become more challenging as there is lingering uncertainty over how atmospheric rivers will shift in intensity and frequency due to ongoing global warming.