From In just a few years, tracking the West Coast’s atmospheric rivers by airplane has gone from what one hydrologist called “really-wild-eyed stuff” to a Congressionally-funded operation. This Atmospheric River Reconnaissance program, which wrapped up its latest season in March, monitors these increasingly powerful storms as they shoot across the Pacific Ocean and delivers real-time data to National Weather Service forecasters. Knowing when, where and how hard atmospheric rivers will hit is vital to ensuring water supplies and avoiding floods.

California can swing from 20 inches to 60 inches of rainfall per year,” says Atmospheric River Reconnaissance lead Marty Ralph, a research meteorologist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “We’re very different from the rest of the country — that’s why we need a special program.” (more)