“If we went straight up from here to space, took every water vapor molecule, and condensed it into liquid, anybody hazard to guess how deep it might be?”
So queried Marty Ralph, atmospheric scientist and director of the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes early on in his fascinating exploration of the newest understanding of how precipitable moisture is transported in the atmosphere. The answer to his question is as surprising as what people like him have helped us come to understand about what scientists and meteorologists now call “ARs”, or atmospheric rivers.
Just ten years ago we didn’t have a clear understanding or a name for this phenomenon, but as Marty shows, the advent of new satellite technology made these atmospheric features “…stand out like a sore thumb.”
If the history of their discovery isn’t fascinating enough, what they mean for California, and anywhere else in the world affected by the influence of ARs is stunning in terms of what they can do in terms of damage, as well as ending droughts. Considering the current situation you might find yourself hoping for a bit of an “Arkstorm”. What’s that? You’ll have to watch and see, but I will say, like massive earthquakes, they have happened here before, and they will happen again.
Watch Atmospheric Rivers: California Rainmakers.
Browse more programs in Perspectives on Ocean Science.