CW3E Publication Notice

Hourly Storm Characteristics along the U.S. West Coast: Role of Atmospheric Rivers in Extreme Precipitation

July 10, 2017

Fifty-five years of gridded hourly precipitation observations (CPC Hourly U.S. Precipitation) are used in this study to identify storm characteristics which most strongly modulate extreme storms along the U.S. West Coast. By investigating storms at fine (hourly) time scales, we showed that U.S. West Coast storm total precipitation is more strongly modulated by storm durations than by storm intensities, whereas in the Southeast U.S., storm intensities more strongly dictate the storm total precipitation (Figure 1, presented as Figure 2 in Lamjiri et al. [2017]). This study also showed that the most extreme precipitation events along the U.S. West Coast are associated with the most persistent atmospheric rivers, rather than the high intensity ARs. Therefore, it is of high importance to improve forecast skill of the duration of storms over the U.S. West Coast, which provides valuable information that could be used to mitigate flood risks and enhance water reservoir management. More details are provided in the full manuscript, which was published in the AGU journal Geophysical Research Letters: Lamjiri, M. A., M. D. Dettinger, F. M. Ralph, and B. Guan, 2017: Hourly storm characteristics along the U.S. West Coast: Role of atmospheric rivers in extreme precipitation, Geophys. Res. Lett., 44, doi:10.1002/2017GL074193. click here for personal use pdf file

Figure 1 Correlation coefficient of storm-precipitation totals with storm durations (a), maximum intensities (b), and average intensities(c) based on hourly precipitation observations from 1948-2002.


Gridded hourly precipitation observations over the conterminous US, from 1948 to 2002, are analyzed to determine climatological characteristics of storm precipitation totals. Despite generally lower hourly intensities, precipitation totals along the U.S. West Coast (USWC) are comparable to those in Southeast U.S. (SEUS). Storm durations, more so than hourly intensities, strongly modulate precipitation-total variability over the USWC, where the correlation coefficients between storm durations and storm totals range from 0.7 to 0.9. Atmospheric rivers (ARs) contribute 30-50% of annual precipitation on the USWC, and make such large contributions to extreme storms that 60-100% of the most extreme storms, i.e. storms with precipitation-total return intervals longer than two years, are associated with ARs. These extreme storm totals are more strongly tied to storm durations than to storm hourly or average intensities, emphasizing the importance of AR persistence to extreme storms on the USWC.