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Classification of atmospheric river events on the U.S. West coast using a trajectory model

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We investigate transport pathways of water vapor associated with landfalling atmospheric river (AR) events that result in precipitation along the West Coast of the U.S. for winters of 1997-2010. The water vapor transport pathways are determined by computing back trajectories with a trajectory model using the Modern Era Retrospective analysis for Research and Applications reanalysis data set. The majority of AR events (86%) over the West Coast of the U.S. are grouped into three trajectory types, and two of them are closely associated with the AR events. We designate the first type as Ascending near landfall and of Tropical Origin (AT), the second type as Ascending near landfall and of Extratropical Origin (AE), and the third type as Descending or parallel near landfall and of Extratropical Origin (DE), which is accompanied but not directly associated with the AR events. The magnitude and spatial distribution of precipitation of a given AR event are found to be strongly determined by the type of trajectories. In general, AR events composed of both AT and AE trajectories have more frequent precipitation over a broad region of the western U.S. and AR events composed of both AT and DE trajectories have intense precipitation over the southwestern U.S. due to AT trajectories. AR events of AT-only trajectories have intense precipitation, especially over the northwestern U.S., but are less frequent compared to those of AT + AE trajectories. In addition, different patterns of trajectory types among AR events are closely linked to upper level potential vorticity (PV) anomalies; 66% of AR events are associated with anticyclonic Rossby wave breaking events.

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