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The Shifting Scales of Western U.S. Landfalling Atmospheric Rivers Under Climate Change


Atmospheric rivers (ARs) can be a boon and bane to water resource managers as they have the ability to replenish water reserves, but they can also generate million-to-billion-dollar flood damages. To investigate how anthropogenic climate change may influence AR characteristics in the coastal western United States by end century, we employ a suite of novel tools such as variable resolution in the Community Earth System Model (VR-CESM), the TempestExtremes AR detection algorithm, and the Ralph, Rutz, et al. (2019, AR category scale. We show that end-century ARs primarily shift from being “mostly or primarily beneficial” to “mostly or primarily hazardous” with a concomitant sharpening and intensification of winter season precipitation totals. Changes in precipitation totals are due to a significant increase in AR (+260%) rather than non-AR (+7%) precipitation, largely through increases in the most intense category of AR events and a decrease in the interval between landfalling ARs.

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