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Water resources are crucial to the livelihood and sustainability of the general public across the western United States. This study covers the timespan of both the third driest drought in Californian history between 2012 and 2015 as well as the extreme atmospheric river year in 2016-2017. The evaluation of vertical moisture profiles using Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere, and Climate (COSMIC) Radio Occultation (RO) data, National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP)/National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) Reanalysis of 500 hPa geopotential heights, 1000-500 hPa thickness, Optimum Interpolation (OI) Sea Surface Temperature (SST), NOAA/NDBC buoy data, and NASA, MEaSUREs, Gridded Sea Surface Height Anomalies (SSHA) were performed. The daily COSMIC time evolution from 2006 through 2015 showed a flat to slightly upward trend of both temperature and water vapor profiles through the entirety of the western US drought. Subsequently, a significant increase of temperatures and water vapor were recorded in early 2016 before the extreme Atmospheric River (AR) season of 2016-2017. The quantitative analyses suggest that warmer SST and higher SSHA lead to an increase of heat fluxes from the ocean into the troposphere, which forces thickness changes and thus the position of troughs in the geopotential height field changes afterwards, consequently pushing the trough eastward over the Pacific Northwest and potentially leading to an active AR year in the western US. It appears that regional COSMIC RO moisture profiles, seasonal SST, and SLH anomalies may serve as a precursor for seasonal or sub-seasonal precipitation outlook along the western US.

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National Aeronautics and Space Administration


Atmospheric rivers, Buoys, Climatology, COSMIC, Drought, Geopotential heights, Reanalysis, Satellite, Sea level heights, Sea surface temperatures, Thickness

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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.


Meteorology and Climate Science