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Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres

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Atmospheric Rivers, Atmospheric science


The serial occurrence of atmospheric rivers (ARs) along the US West Coast can lead to prolonged and exacerbated hydrologic impacts, threatening flood-control and water-supply infrastructure due to soil saturation and diminished recovery time between storms. Here a statistical approach for quantifying subseasonal temporal clustering among extreme events is applied to a 41-year (1979–2019) wintertime AR catalog across the western United States (US). Observed AR occurrence, compared against a randomly distributed AR timeseries with the same average event density, reveals temporal clustering at a greater-than-random rate across the western US with a distinct geographical pattern. Compared to the Pacific Northwest, significant AR clusters over the northern Coastal Range of California and Sierra Nevada are more frequent and occur over longer time periods. Clusters along the California Coastal Range typically persist for 2 weeks, are composed of 4–5 ARs per cluster, and account for over 85% of total AR occurrence. Across the northwest Coast-Cascade Ranges, clusters account for ∼50% of total AR occurrence, typically last 8–10 days, and contain 3–4 individual AR events. Based on precipitation data from a high-resolution dynamical downscaling of reanalysis, the fractions of total and extreme hourly precipitation attributable to AR clusters are largest along the northern California coast and in the Sierra Nevada. Interannual variability among clusters highlights their importance for determining whether a particular water year is anomalously wet or dry. The mechanisms behind this unusual clustering are unclear and require further research.


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