Research on ‘Rivers in the Sky’ to Improve Severe Weather Forecasting

Published: May 27, 2014

Research on ‘Rivers in the Sky’ to Improve Severe Weather Forecasting

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Torrential downpours, flash flooding, mudslides, and heavy snowfall are all extreme weather conditions that may soon be easier to predict and prepare for as Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi Associate Professor of Atmospheric Science Toshiaki Shinoda explores the formation of atmospheric rivers (AR).

Shinoda recently received a $513,479 grant from the National Science foundation to study these erratic weather patterns. He will focus on improving the prediction model for these atmospheric phenomena by using satellite observations. Improvement in prediction models will help the public better prepare for extreme weather. This research will not only assist the United States but will allow for greater accuracy when predicting global climate change such as El Niño events.

 “Atmospheric rivers are one of the most striking examples of atmospheric processes that directly influence weather and climate along the west coast of United States,” said Shinoda. “Despite the importance of atmospheric rivers on the global water cycle, weather, and water supply in western U.S., it is still a major challenge to predict them.”

Predicting atmospheric rivers is very important because they are responsible for a large amount of rainfall. Many provide up to 50 percent of the annual rainfall for the west coast and can influence whether the area experiences harsh droughts or flash-flooding.

An atmospheric river resembles a jet stream made out of water vapor instead of wind and is associated with strong winds that force the water vapor high into the atmosphere. Once the water vapor moves higher in the atmosphere it cools and forms rain. One of the most well known examples is the Pinapple Express, which is associated with causing extreme weather on the west coast of the United States and is able to pull large amounts of moisture into the atmosphere from the Pacific Ocean, near Hawaii.

Shinoda’s research will provide insight into specific atmospheric events that create atmospheric rivers and their impact on precipitation. Such research is expected to improve scientists’ ability to predict severe rain.

Shinoda, who has more than 30 publications, came to the Island University in 2013.

The University currently is developing an Atmospheric Sciences program.