A long-term perspective of the hydroclimatological impacts of atmospheric rivers over the central United States

Munir Ahmad Nayak, Gabriele Villarini

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52 Scopus citations


The focus of this study is on the climatology of atmospheric rivers (ARs) over the central United States using six atmospheric reanalysis products. This climatology is used to understand the long-term impacts of ARs on annual precipitation, precipitation extremes, and flooding over the central United States. The relationship between the frequency of ARs and three prominent large-scale atmospheric modes [Pacific-North American (PNA) teleconnection, Artic Oscillation (AO), and North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO)] is investigated, and the results are used to statistically model the frequency of ARs at the seasonal scale. AR characteristics (e.g., frequency, duration) are generally robust across the different reanalysis products. ARs exhibit a marked seasonality, with the largest activity in winter (more than 10 ARs per season on average), and the lowest in summer (less than two ARs per season on average). Overall, the duration of most ARs is less than 3 days, but exceptionally persistent ARs (more than 6 days) are also observed. The year-to-year variations in the total annual precipitation over the central United States are largely explained by the variations in AR-related precipitation. Moreover, 40% of the top 1% daily precipitation extremes are associated with ARs, and more than 70% of the annual instantaneous peak discharges and peaks-overthreshold floods are associated with these storms, in particular during winter and spring. The seasonal frequency of ARs can be described in terms of large-scale atmospheric modes, with PNA playing a major role in particular in winter and spring.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1144-1166
Number of pages23
JournalWater Resources Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Water Science and Technology


  • atmospheric modes
  • atmospheric rivers
  • central United States
  • extreme precipitation
  • floods


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