As an AI language model, I can't display images, but I can provide a description:  The still image captures the atmospheric river as it sweeps across California, showcasing its immense scale and the widespread coverage of moisture-laden clouds. The image likely depicts dark, ominous clouds stretching across the sky, indicating the intensity of the rainfall associated with the atmospheric river. Photo by CIRA
14 Mar 2024

"Firehose" atmospheric river captured by satellite cameras


The "firehose" atmospheric river depicted over Southern California in satellite imagery released by the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere is a visually striking representation of a significant weather phenomenon. 


Atmospheric rivers are corridors of tropical moisture that travel through the atmosphere. They transport this moisture from the equator toward the North and South poles, causing extreme weather like heavy rainfall and storms when they arrive, Newsweek.com reports. 

Acting like long, narrow bands of enhanced water vapor transport in the atmosphere, often stretching thousands of kilometers across the sky, these "hovering rivers" can bring heavy precipitation and are crucial for replenishing water resources in regions they pass through, however,  they can also lead to flooding and other hazardous conditions.

In the case of California, atmospheric rivers play a crucial role in the state's water supply, particularly during the winter months when they can contribute a significant portion of the annual precipitation. However, they can also bring intense storms and contribute to flooding and mudslides, posing challenges for infrastructure and public safety.

Satellite imagery provides valuable insights into the behavior and dynamics of atmospheric rivers, helping meteorologists and researchers better understand and predict their impacts. By monitoring these phenomena from space, scientists can track their movements, assess their intensity, and provide early warnings to communities potentially affected by their associated weather hazards.

The imagery captured on Tuesday, February 20, offers a snapshot of one such event, highlighting the scale and magnitude of the atmospheric river as it traversesdacross California. Analyzing such imagery allows scientists to study the characteristics and behavior of atmospheric rivers, contributing to ongoing efforts to improve weather forecasting and mitigate the risks associated with extreme weather events.

"A firehose of moisture is aimed at Southern California this morning. Flooding risks remain as the atmospheric river continues to bring heavy rain," CIRA said on X, formerly Twitter.

The Climate Change Impacts and Risk Analysis (CIRA) project quantifies the physical effects and economic damages of climate change in the United States (U.S.). Using detailed models of sectoral impacts (e.g., human health, infrastructure, and water resources), the project seeks to quantify and monetize how risks, impacts, and damages may change in response to greenhouse gas mitigation and adaptation actions.


Flooding and heavy rainfall in California during February

The situation in Southern California earlier in february, with extreme rainfall and flood warnings in effect due to the atmospheric river, underscores the significant impacts these weather phenomena can have on local communities and infrastructure. Atmospheric rivers, as corridors of tropical moisture, indeed play a critical role in transporting vast amounts of water vapor across large distances in the atmosphere.

As these atmospheric rivers interact with topographical features such as mountains, they can lead to intense precipitation events, particularly in regions like Southern California where the terrain is complex. The convergence of moist air masses with the coastal mountains can enhance uplift and precipitation, resulting in heavy rainfall and potential flooding in low-lying areas.

Additionally, the accompanying strong winds and heavy snowfall on mountainous regions further compound the challenges, potentially leading to hazardous travel conditions, avalanches, and other weather-related hazards.


NASA provides photo from space to better understand atmospheric rivers

The series of atmospheric rivers that have battered California in recent weeks have indeed brought severe rainfall and significant flooding to various parts of the state. The intensity of these events has been exemplified by record-breaking amounts of precipitation, which have strained infrastructure, caused property damage, and posed risks to public safety.

Given the potential for severe disruption and hazards associated with atmospheric rivers, accurate prediction and early warning systems are crucial for enabling communities to take proactive measures to mitigate their impacts. By monitoring atmospheric conditions, including moisture transport and atmospheric dynamics, meteorologists can forecast the likelihood and intensity of atmospheric river events with increasing accuracy.

Advanced satellite imagery and modeling techniques, such as those utilized by NASA, provide valuable insights into the behavior and characteristics of atmospheric rivers, aiding in their prediction and tracking. These tools enable forecasters to issue timely alerts and advisories, allowing authorities and residents to implement preparedness measures, such as evacuations, flood prevention measures, and infrastructure reinforcements.

By enhancing our understanding of atmospheric rivers and improving our ability to forecast their occurrence and impacts, we can better safeguard lives, property, and critical infrastructure from the devastating effects of these extreme weather events. Moreover, continued research and investment in predictive capabilities will be essential for building resilience and adaptive capacity in the face of future atmospheric river events and other climate-related challenges.


There is evidence to suggest atmospheric rivers may be increasing. Recent research published in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres found that atmospheric rivers could only increase if climate change continues to worsen.


As reported by Phys.org on February 19th, 2024, the development of a method to detect Atmospheric Rivers (ARs) using satellite observations marks a significant advancement in our ability to monitor and understand these important weather phenomena. Previously, ARs were primarily detected using numerical model simulations, which had limitations in providing real-time, global coverage solely based on observations due to the lack of matching wind data.

With the introduction of a novel method to approximate 3D wind data via satellites, scientists can now automatically detect ARs using satellite observations. This advancement has enabled the creation of the first satellite-based near-global AR dataset, providing a comprehensive view of AR activity around the world.

By incorporating both moisture field and wind information from satellites, which are two key factors defining ARs, the new detection algorithm offers a more accurate depiction of impending extreme weather events. This dataset serves as a benchmark for evaluating previous AR analyses and identifying areas for improvement, such as the width of ARs.

The findings from this study have implications for improving the representation of ARs and associated precipitation in reanalyses and climate models. By better understanding the characteristics and behavior of ARs, scientists can enhance the accuracy of weather forecasts and improve preparedness for extreme weather events.

Furthermore, as the quality of satellite observations continues to improve, the methodology developed in this study can be applied to other satellite datasets to further refine AR statistics, potentially leading to higher resolution and frequency observations. This ongoing refinement and expansion of our capabilities for detecting and analyzing ARs contribute to our overall understanding of atmospheric processes and climate dynamics.