Congressional Briefing on “A New Frontier in Water Operations: Atmospheric Rivers, Subseasonal-to-Seasonal Predictions and Weather Forecasting Technology”

Congressional Briefing on “A New Frontier in Water Operations: Atmospheric Rivers, Subseasonal-to-Seasonal Predictions and Weather Forecasting Technology”

July 27, 2016

An interagency, cross-disciplinary team of experts recently convened in Washington to provide Congressional staff with a briefing on atmospheric rivers, subseasonal-to-seasonal precipitation prediction needs, and the benefits of enhanced predictive forecasting technology to the future of water management.

Attendees heard from a diverse panel of experts representing a broad spectrum of perspectives, including government engagement by the National Weather Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, scientific findings presented by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and regional impacts to stakeholders represented by the Western States Water Council.

This briefing highlighted CW3E’s major effforts on atmospheric river science, monitoring and predictions, and their application to possible new water management strategies, such as Forecast-Informed Reservoir Operations (FIRO;, which is co-led by CW3E’s Director, F. Martin Ralph. Roughly 40 people attended, including representatives of congressional offices, committees, ACWA, federal agencies and other groups.

Click here for a summary.

Contact: F. Martin Ralph (

Publication Notice: CalWater Field Studies Designed to Quantify the Roles of Atmospheric Rivers and Aerosols in Modulating U.S. West Coast Precipitation in a Changing Climate

CW3E Publication Notice

CalWater Field Studies Designed to Quantify the Roles of Atmospheric Rivers and Aerosols in Modulating U.S. West Coast Precipitation in a Changing Climate

November 28, 2016

Ralph F.M., K. A. Prather, D. Cayan, J.R. Spackman, P. DeMott, M. Dettinger, C. Fairall, R. Leung, D. Rosenfeld, S. Rutledge, D. Waliser, A. B. White, J. Cordeira, A. Martin, J. Helly, and J. Intrieri, 2016: CalWater Field Studies Designed to Quantify the Roles of Atmospheric Rivers and Aerosols in Modulating U.S. West Coast Precipitation in a Changing Climate. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc. 97, yyy-zzz. doi: 10.1175/BAMS-D-14-00043.1.

This paper summarizes the 8-year-long CalWater program of field studies, from planning to field operations and analysis efforts. It also summarizes the major motivations for the program as well as science gaps addressed, and serves as the standard reference for future CalWater analysis papers.

Contact: F. Martin Ralph (


Quantifying the roles of atmospheric rivers and aerosols in modulating U.S. West Coast precipitation, water supply, flood risks and drought in a changing climate.

The variability of precipitation and water supply along the U.S. West Coast creates major challenges to the region’s economy and environment, as evidenced by the recent California drought. This variability is strongly influenced by atmospheric rivers (AR), which deliver much of the precipitation along the U.S. West Coast and can cause flooding, and by aerosols (from local sources and transported from remote continents and oceans) that modulate clouds and precipitation. A better understanding of these processes is needed to reduce uncertainties in weather predictions and climate projections of droughts and floods, both now and under changing climate conditions.

To address these gaps a group of meteorologists, hydrologists, climate scientists, atmospheric chemists, and oceanographers have created an interdisciplinary research effort, with support from multiple agencies. From 2009-2011 a series of field campaigns (CalWater 1) collected atmospheric chemistry, cloud microphysics and meteorological measurements in California and associated modeling and diagnostic studies were carried out. Based on remaining gaps, a vision was developed to extend these studies offshore over the Eastern North Pacific and to enhance land-based measurements from 2014-2018 (CalWater 2). The data set and selected results from CalWater 1 are summarized here. The goals of CalWater-2, and measurements to date, are then described.

CalWater is producing new findings and exploring new technologies to evaluate and improve global climate models and their regional performance and to develop tools supporting water and hydropower management. These advances also have potential to enhance hazard mitigation by improving near-term weather prediction and subseasonal and seasonal outlooks.

October 2016 Summary

October 2016 Summary

November 23, 2016

CW3E provides a summary of October 2016, one of the wettest Octobers on record for the Western United States. Several Atmospheric Rivers (ARs) made landfall along the U.S. West Coast and led to record setting precipitation production. For specific details on AR events refer to the CW3E AR Summaries, found on the CW3E News page.

Click here for a pdf file of this information.










Summary provided by C. Hecht, B. Kawzenuk, and F.M. Ralph

Publication Notice: Forecasting Atmospheric Rivers during CalWater 2015

CW3E Publication Notice

Forecasting Atmospheric Rivers during CalWater 2015

November 22, 2016

Cordeira, J., F. Ralph, A. Martin, N. Gaggini, R. Spackman, P. Neiman, J. Rutz, and R. Pierce, 0: Forecasting Atmospheric Rivers during CalWater 2015. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 0, doi: 10.1175/BAMS-D-15-00245.1.

As part of CW3E’s mission and goals a new set of atmospheric river (AR)-focused diagnostic and prediction tools have been created, in close partnership with Plymouth State University’s Prof. Jason Cordeira, and building upon work done earlier at NOAA under the HMT Program (see Ralph et al. 2013 BAMS, Wick et al. 2013 Wea. Forecasting). These developments were accelerated and focused by the needs for specialized AR forecast displays to support the CalWater field campaigns in 2014 and 2015 (see Ralph et al. 2016, BAMS). CalWater used research aircraft to observe atmospheric rivers and carried out aerosol science. These developments are summarized in a paper on the forecasting tools that were used in the CalWater field campaign by CW3E researchers and collaborators (Cordeira et al.) that was recently published in Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS). The paper details some of the new AR forecasting tools developed using NCEP Global Forecast System and Global Ensemble Forecast System. A novel AR landfall detection forecast tool illustrates the probability of AR conditions at different locations along the western coast of the US. Another new forecast tool that used the various ensemble members illustrates the possible range of integrated water vapor transport (IVT) at a specific location using each of the ensemble members. In addition, the high quality plots of forecasted IVT and observed integrated water vapor supported the CalWater field campaign. Beyond supporting the CalWater Field Campaign, these new forecasting tools will likely improve AR forecasting throughout the West Coast. All these and more of the new forecasting tools can be found on the CW3E website under “Atmospheric River Resources.”

84-h NCEP GFS gridded forecast of IVT magnitude (kg m-1s-1 and direction; initialized at 1200 UTC on 3 February 2015; (b) as in (a), except for the verifying analysis of IVT magnitude and direction at 0000 UTC 7 February 2015 with overlaid draft flight track of the NOAA G-IV aircraft (c) GPS-derived IWV (mm) at 0015 UTC 7 February 2015.


Atmospheric Rivers (ARs) are long and narrow corridors of enhanced vertically integrated water vapor (IWV) and IWV transport (IVT) within the warm sector of extratropical cyclones that can produce heavy precipitation and flooding in regions of complex terrain, especially along the U.S. West Coast. Several field campaigns have investigated ARs under the “CalWater” program of field studies. The first field phase of CalWater during 2009–2011 increased the number of observations of precipitation and aerosols, among other parameters, across California and sampled ARs in the coastal and near-coastal environment, whereas the second field phase of CalWater during 2014–2015 observed the structure and intensity of ARs and aerosols in the coastal and offshore environment over the Northeast Pacific. This manuscript highlights the forecasts that were prepared for the CalWater field campaign in 2015 and the development and use of an “AR portal” that was used to inform these forecasts. The AR portal contains archived and real-time deterministic and probabilistic gridded forecast tools related to ARs that emphasize water vapor concentrations and water vapor flux distributions over the eastern North Pacific, among other parameters, in a variety of formats derived from the NCEP Global Forecast System and Global Ensemble Forecast System. The tools created for the CalWater 2015 field campaign provided valuable guidance for flight planning and field activity purposes, and may prove useful in forecasting ARs and better anticipating hydrometeorological extremes along the U.S. West Coast.

Click here for personal use PDF file

Points of contact: Jason Cordeira, F. Martin Ralph, Brian Kawzenuk

CW3E Hosts Winter Outlook Workshop with California DWR

CW3E Hosts Winter Outlook Workshop with California DWR

November 18, 2016

The California Department of Water Resources (CDWR) and CW3E led a working meeting with researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, November 16-18, 2016. The workshop focused on efforts to improve sub-seasonal to seasonal prediction of precipitation, which could help agencies better manage water resources.

“We’d all like to know if 2017 will be wet or dry, but determining that is scientifically difficult. We’re trying to emphasize the need for prioritizing this research in the science community,” said Jeanine Jones, Interstate Resources Manager at CDWR.

Participants from the following agencies were in attendance: CW3E/Scripps, CDWR, Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA), National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), Natonal Weather Service (NWS), Western States Federal Agency Support Team (WestFAST), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Plymouth State University (PSU), Oregon State University (OSU), University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Salt River Project (SRP), Climate Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS), Desert Research Institute (DRI), and Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD).

Images courtesy DWR Photography – Florence Low

Water Year 2016 Summary

Water Year 2016 Summary

October 15, 2016

CW3E provides a summary of the top ten precipitation events based on the Northern Sierra 8-Station index during Water Year 2016 (Oct. 1 2015 – Sep. 30 2016). The top ten events occurred over a total of 27 days, and resulted in 30.09 inches of precipiation representing 51.89% of total water year precipitaiton and 60.2% of normal water year precipitation. All events were associated with an Atmospheric River (AR), with 6 considered strong ARs (IVT >750 kg m-1) s-1. For event specific reports refer to the CW3E News Page. For up to date AR forecasts and analysis visit the CW3E AR Portal.

Click here for a pdf file of this information.






Summary provided by B. Kawzenuk, and F.M. Ralph

CW3E Congratulates Undergraduate Itzel Gomez on Research Award

CW3E Congratulates Undergraduate Itzel Gomez on Research Award

November 8, 2016

Itzel Gomez, an undergraduate who worked with CW3E mentors Julie Kalansky, Anna Wilson, and F. Martin Ralph during summer 2016 with the UCSD California Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (CAMP) in Science, Engineering & Mathematics Summer Research Program, attended the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) National Conference. The SHPE National Conference was held November 2-6, 2016 in Seattle, WA. Itzel presented her summer project at CW3E with a poster titled “Assessing the Role of Soil Moisture on Reservoir Inflow in Northern California”. Her poster was included in the Research and Innovation in STEM (RISE) Engineering and Science Symposium. Itzel was awarded the Certificate of Excellence in the 2016 SHPE Engineering Science Symposium Best Poster Award. She won second place for her poster among 40 other presenters, which included undergraduate and graduate students. Itzel will also be presenting her poster at the upcoming CAMP Statewide Symposium, which will be held at UC Irvine on February 4, 2017.

Publication Notice: Extreme Daily Precipitation in the Northern California Upper Sacramento River Watershed Requires a Combination of a Landfalling Atmospheric River and a Sierra Barrier Jet

CW3E Publication Notice

Extreme Daily Precipitation in the Northern California Upper Sacramento River Watershed Requires a Combination of a Landfalling Atmospheric River and a Sierra Barrier Jet

July 18, 2016

Ralph, F.M., J.M. Cordeira, P.J. Neiman and M. Hughes, 2016: Extreme Daily Precipitation in the Northern California Upper Sacramento River Watershed Requires a Combination of a Landfalling Atmospheric River and a Sierra Barrier Jet. J. Hydrometeor., 17, 1904-1915.

The top 0.3% most extreme daily precipitation events in the key Sacramento River watershed all involved both a landfalling atmospheric river and a Sierra Barrier Jet. Thus, forecasts of extreme precipitation are related to the skill of forecasts of each of these key phenomena, and can be enhanced by evaluation of, and enhancement of, skill in predicting each of these key processes. This study was led by the CW3E Director, was supported by the California Department of Water Resources, used data from NOAA’s Hydrometeorology Testbed collected over a decade, and epitomizes the focus of the “Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes,” and its partnership with NOAA Research’s Physical Sciences Division and Plymouth State University.

Contact: F. Martin Ralph (


The upper Sacramento River watershed is vital to California’s water supply and is susceptible to major floods. Orographic precipitation in this complex terrain involves both atmospheric rivers (ARs) and the Sierra barrier jet (SBJ). The south-southeasterly SBJ induces orographic precipitation along south-facing slopes in the Mt. Shasta–Trinity Alps, whereas landfalling ARs ascend up and over the statically stable SBJ and induce orographic precipitation along west-facing slopes in the northern Sierra Nevada. This paper explores the occurrence of extreme daily precipitation (EDP) in this region in association with landfalling ARs and the SBJ. The 50 wettest days (i.e., days with EDP) for water years (WYs) 2002–11 based on the average of daily precipitation from eight rain gauges known as the Northern Sierra 8-Station Index (NS8I) are compared to dates from an SSM/I satellite-based landfalling AR-detection method and dates with SBJ events identified from nearby wind profiler data. These 50 days with EDP accounted for 20% of all precipitation during the 10-WY period, or 5 days with EDP per year on average account for one-fifth of WY precipitation. In summary, 46 of 50 (92%) days with EDP are associated with landfalling ARs on either the day before or the day of precipitation, whereas 45 of 50 (90%) days with EDP are associated with SBJ conditions on the day of EDP. Forty-one of 50 (82%) days with EDP are associated with both a landfalling AR and an SBJ. The top 10 days with EDP were all associated with both a landfalling AR and an SBJ.

Mesoscale Frontal Wave AR during CalWater-2014

CW3E Publication Notice

An Airborne and Ground-Based Study of a Long-Lived and Intense Atmospheric River with Mesoscale Frontal Waves Impacting California during CalWater-2014

May 10, 2016

Neiman, P.J., B.J. Moore, A.B. White, G.A. Wick, J. Aikins, D.L. Jackson, J.R Spackman, and F.M. Ralph, 2016: An Airborne and Ground-Based Study of a Long-Lived and Intense Atmospheric River with Mesoscale Frontal Waves Impacting California during CalWater-2014. Mon. Wea. Rev., 144, 1115-1144.

This study provides the most comprehensive observations to date of a mesoscale frontal wave associated with an atmospheric river, including its structure offshore, landfall characteristics and impacts on precipitation. It utilizes research aircraft, a unique array of coastal hydrometeorological measurements and inland data. This paper reflects the broader scientific collaboration between CW3E and NOAA/PSD, and adds to the knowledge of phenomena that are critical to creating extreme precipitation on the U.S. West Coast – a major thrust of CW3E. Dr. Ralph contributed to this paper by proposing the experiment (Ralph et al. 2016 BAMS), identifying the science objective for the flights (i.e., mapping out the structure of a mesoscale frontal wave with dropsondes and airborne radar), laying out the flight tracks, guiding the mission onboard, having been the PI of the major projects that created the unique land-based observing network (NOAA HMT- Ralph et al. 2013 BAMS, and the DWR-sponsored EFREP mesonet – White et al. 2013 JTech) used in the study and contributing to the analysis and interpretation of the measurements in this paper.

Contacts: Paul Neiman ( and F. Martin Ralph (


The wettest period during the CalWater-2014 winter field campaign occurred with a long-lived, intense atmospheric river (AR) that impacted California on 7–10 February. The AR was maintained in conjunction with the development and propagation of three successive mesoscale frontal waves. Based on Lagrangian trajectory analysis, moist air of tropical origin was tapped by the AR and was subsequently transported into California. Widespread heavy precipitation (200–400 mm) fell across the coastal mountain ranges northwest of San Francisco and across the northern Sierra Nevada, although only modest flooding ensued due to anomalously dry antecedent conditions. A NOAA G-IV aircraft flew through two of the frontal waves in the AR environment offshore during a ;24-h period. Parallel dropsonde curtains documented key three dimensional thermodynamic and kinematic characteristics across the AR and the frontal waves prior to landfall. The AR characteristics varied, depending on the location of the cross section through the frontal waves. A newly implemented tail-mounted Doppler radar on the G-IV simultaneously captured coherent precipitation features. Along the coast, a 449-MHz wind profiler and collocated global positioning system (GPS) receiver documented prolonged AR conditions linked to the propagation of the three frontal waves and highlighted the orographic character of the coastal-mountain rainfall with the waves’ landfall. Avertically pointing S-PROF radar in the coastal mountains provided detailed information on the bulk microphysical characteristics of the rainfall. Farther inland, a pair of 915-MHz wind profilers and GPS receivers quantified the orographic precipitation forcing as the AR ascended the Sierra Nevada, and as the terrain-induced Sierra barrier jet ascended the northern terminus of California’s Central Valley.

CW3E represented in recent policy and program meetings

CW3E Represented in Recent Policy and Program Meetings

June 8, 2017

During the last few weeks CW3E’s perspectives have been highlighted at three science policy-oriented meetings. The connection between CW3E’s scientific activities, practical applications and water policy implications is a common theme among them. The meetings and a brief synopsis are provided below:

1) AGU Congressional briefing on role of basic Geoscience in American Security May 2016

AGU invited three speakers to a Congressional briefing they organized to communicate to staff supporting a number of elected officials and policy committees. The goal was to make the connection between basic science advances (and the funding that has supported them), and benefits to American Security. CW3E’s Director, Dr. Ralph, represented the role of basic geoscience research in advancing water security in the Western U.S. His presentation emphasized the critical roles of key science funding strategies, from standard grants programs, to directed research efforts, cooperative agreements and federal labs. And in the end concluded that many breakthrough advances result not from a systems engineering approach to deciding what to do, but from ideas that are “outside the box.” He also highlighted that science, at its core, is fundamentally a creative endeavor that requires long-term support for people in their careers and for the organizations that host them. AGU has posted a video of the briefings here.

2) NOAA Water Information “Listening Session” in Sacramento May 2016

NOAA invited water management stakeholders from across the West to hear about the National Water Center they are creating in Alabama and to listen to stakeholders interests and needs for weather and water information to support water supply, flood mitigation and endangered species restoration in the West. CW3E was represented by Dr. Ralph, who brought Scripps science into the discussion, and supported major points presented by water managers concerning the vital role of atmospheric rivers in western water decisions. NOAA held one other regional “listening session” – in Alabama, and is holding one more “National” session in July. They will be considering input from these meeting as they develop their agency’s strategies in the coming years to support water information needs for the nation.

3) WSWC S2S Workshop San Diego June 2016

The National Academies of Science recently released a report on the subject of science needed to enable subseasonal-to-seasonal predictions to support decisions. The Western States Water Council (a group supporting the Governors of 17 Western States) organized a regional Workshop in San Diego in early June to discuss both the user requirements for better forecasts and the science opportunities to achieve them. CW3E was represented well, including participation by Sasha Gerhunov, Tamara Shulgina and Marty Ralph, including a presentation by Marty on observing system needs to support the goals.