A team of scientists on Thursday flew four aircraft into the torrent of an atmospheric river storm headed toward California. The research ship navigated the Pacific Ocean in a coordinated effort to detect interactions between the atmosphere and the water surface that fuel these storms.
The research effort, called Calwater 2015 and based in Sacramento, is one of the most intensive research projects ever undertaken to study atmospheric rivers.
Sometimes called “Pineapple Express” events, these storms occur when high-altitude winds draw tropical moisture in a narrow band across the Pacific Ocean past Hawaii. They can transport 10 to 20 times as much water volume as the Mississippi River and have been responsible for some of California’s most damaging winter storms.
Atmospheric rivers are also crucial to managing water supplies in California. The state typically experiences five or six such storms every year, and collectively they can provide as much as half of the freshwater supply that the state needs to get through its long, dry summers.
The research effort is aimed at learning more about how to predict the intensity and direction of atmospheric rivers to help improve disaster planning and water management in California.