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Defining “atmospheric river”: How the Glossary of Meteorology helped resolve a debate

April 1, 2018

Since the term “atmospheric river” (AR) first appeared in modern scientific literature in the early 1990s, it has generated debate about the meaning of the concept. A common popular definition is something along the lines of a “river in the sky,” albeit as a river of water vapor rather than of liquid. This general concept has come into regular use in the western United States and in some other regions affected by ARs, partly due to its use by media, and due to the intuitive nature of the concept. However, over the last 20 years there have been varying perspectives on the term in the technical community. These perspectives range roughly from considering it duplicative of preexisting concepts, such as the warm conveyor belt (WCB), to arguments that the analogy to terrestrial rivers is inappropriate, to being a primary topic of focused research, applications, and usage by water managers.

Publication Year 2018
Title Defining “atmospheric river”: How the Glossary of Meteorology helped resolve a debate
DOI 10.1175/BAMS-D-17-0157.1
Authors F. Martin Ralph, Michael D. Dettinger, Mary M. Cairns, Thomas J. Galarneau, John Eylander
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society
Index ID 70201113
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization National Research Program - Western Branch