Those long, intense plumes of moisture in the sky known as atmospheric rivers are a vital water source to communities along the U.S. West Coast. In their absence, desiccating droughts can develop. But in their presence, they can cause extreme rain and floods that can disrupt travel, cause landslides, and trigger infrastructure failures.
Yes, there are rivers in the sky! Atmospheric rivers, to be exact, are narrow bands of moisture that regularly form above the Pacific Ocean and flow towards North America’s west coast, drenching it in rain and packing it with snow. These rivers, which transport more water than the Amazon or the Mississippi, have a far-reaching impact - even on the food you may be eating today.
With this week’s January 14 sailing of NOAA’s largest ship, the Ronald H. Brown, a major investigation of atmospheric rivers named CalWater 2015 is now underway.
Scientists aboard the NOAA Gulfstream IV aircraft are flying over the Pacific Ocean off the U.S. West Coast this week to measure air pressure, temperature, humidity, wind speed and direction to help better understand atmospheric rivers - narrow conveyor belts of water vapor that can bring beneficial water supply and snowpack as well as create dangerous floods.
Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) - or "NOAA Research" - provides the research foundation for understanding the complex systems that support our planet. Working in partnership with other organizational units of the NOAA, a bureau of the Department of Commerce, NOAA Research enables better forecasts, earlier warnings for natural disasters, and a greater understanding of the Earth. Our role is to provide unbiased science to better manage the environment, nationally, and globally.