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Scripps Oceanography Monitoring ‘Red Tide’ at Southern California Beaches

The Scripps Institution of Oceanography reported that dense phytoplankton blooms — popularly known as “red tides” — have become more visible throughout Southern California this week. Blooms have been spotted in La Jolla, Newport Beach, and Santa Barbara. Researchers with the cooperative Southern California Coastal Ocean Observing System are monitoring the blooms. In La Jolla, Scripps said the species Lingulodinium polyedravery is turning water dark red and producing bioluminescence at night. In Newport Beach, the Akashiwo sanguinea species is responsible for orange-red water that can be harmful to birds, fish, and shellfish.

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Few Strong Landfalling Atmospheric Rivers Reach California

Few landfalling atmospheric rivers in the current water year have reached California, now in the third year of a statewide drought.

The latest update from the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes, Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, shows that Water Year 2022 started strong in October, but weaker storms did not ease dry conditions.

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Landfalling atmospheric rivers

The CW3E report, Distribution of Landfalling Atmospheric Rivers over the U.S. West Coast During Water Year 2022: Summary Through March, was published April 7.

“While Water Year 2022 began with an exceptional AR over California in October, the state only experienced strong or greater magnitude AR conditions FIVE times, resulting in three straight water years of below normal activity,” according the report.

The report shows that the “lack of impactful events over consecutive years” – water year 2021 and water year 2020, combined with the current water year, has resulted in three straight years of below normal activity. Bottom line: If California hoped strong atmospheric rivers would end the current drought this water year, that’s not happening, at least so far. And the two previous years were a bust, creating extremely dry conditions across the state.

CW3E and Water Authority partnership

The San Diego County Water Authority partnered with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes, at UC San Diego in 2020 to better predict atmospheric rivers and improve water management before, during, and after those seasonal storms. The Center and its partners share best practices in forecast-informed reservoir operations, increased research around atmospheric rivers and droughts, and develop strategies for mitigating flood risk and increasing water supply reliability.

“Through our partnership with CW3E and the AR forecasting tools they’ve developed, it better prepares us in management of our water resources using regional storage,” said Jeff Stephenson, Water Resources Manager with the San Diego County Water Authority, in 2021. “This storage, in conjunction with developing multiple water supply sources in the San Diego region, has prepared us for years when rainfall levels are below normal in the region.”

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For additional details and graphics go to: https://bit.ly/38rSTNE.

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(Editor’s Note: Atmospheric river analysis by Chad Hecht, Julie Kalansky, & F. Martin Ralph. This analysis is considered experimental.)

Atmospheric River Storm Observations Take Flight Over Pacific Ocean

Research on atmospheric rivers takes flight as UC San Diego’s Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes taps “Hurricane Hunter” aircraft for specialized scientific missions.

The aircraft will fly for a 13-week period (that began January 5) to glean critical data for improving forecasts of atmospheric river storms over the Pacific Ocean. Those storms, or “AR’s,” provide up to half of the U.S. West Coast’s annual precipitation and a majority of the flooding.

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Atmospheric River Storm Observations Take Flight Over Pacific Ocean

Research on atmospheric rivers takes flight as UC San Diego’s Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes taps “Hurricane Hunter” aircraft for specialized scientific missions.

The aircraft will fly for a 13-week period (that began January 5) to glean critical data for improving forecasts of atmospheric river storms over the Pacific Ocean. Those storms, or “AR’s,” provide up to half of the U.S. West Coast’s annual precipitation and a majority of the flooding.

The flights are part of the Atmospheric River Reconnaissance program led by UC San Diego’s Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes (at Scripps Institution of Oceanography) with support from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and California Department of Water Resources. The AR Recon program works in coordination with NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations and the U.S. Air Force Reserve 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron “Hurricane Hunters” to carry out data-collecting missions within these storms.

Two Air Force Reserve WC-130J Super Hercules aircraft are on standby to fly out of Mather Air Force Base near Sacramento, when atmospheric rivers approach the West Coast.  NOAA will station its Gulfstream IV-SP jet in Hawaii during this year’s operations.

Dropsonde instruments will be deployed from these aircraft over specialized transects over atmospheric rivers, transmitting critical data on the vertical profile of water vapor, wind, and temperature carried in fast-moving, low-altitude airstreams that form the atmospheric river.

The San Diego County Water Authority is a partner with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes, at UC San Diego, as part of the effort to better predict atmospheric rivers and improve water management before, during, and after those seasonal storms. The partnership started in 2020.

AR Forecasting and Water Supply

An average atmospheric river carries 25 times the water equivalent of the Mississippi River in the form of vapor instead of liquid. These storms can cover a swath about 500 miles wide while extending thousands of miles in length. They pack winds ranging from more than 50 miles an hour to hurricane force.

“Science has discovered that the leading source of error in predicting when and where an atmospheric river will strike the U.S. West Coast, and how much precipitation it will create, is the position and structure of the atmospheric river itself offshore, prior to landfall,” said Scripps research meteorologist and CW3E Director F. Martin Ralph. “Obtaining accurate environmental measurements in and near the atmospheric river offshore using these aircraft and drifting ocean buoys has a significant impact on forecast accuracy. AR Recon not only fills in many data gaps over the Pacific Ocean for prediction, it supports improved scientific understanding that over time improves forecasts as well. These improvements are vital for water managers and public safety.”

Ralph leads AR Recon 2022, working closely with Vijay Tallapragada, who heads modeling efforts for the National Weather Service’s Global Forecast System (GFS); and Jim Doyle, who leads the Naval Research Laboratory’s Coupled Ocean/Atmosphere Mesoscale Prediction System.

California drought cycles and ARs

Atmospheric rivers have helped break more than 40% of California’s droughts throughout recorded history. They also generate many of California’s most extreme precipitation events, driving 90% of California’s heaviest rains in bursts lasting one to three days. They are also responsible for as much as $1 billion a year in flood damages in western states.

California’s climate variability

Although meteorologists can see atmospheric rivers forming as much as eight days in advance, landfall forecasts can be hundreds of miles off target. AR Recon data improves forecasts of their intensity, allowing forecasters to more precisely determine the potential benefits or hazards of atmospheric rivers. Situationally, they can refill reservoirs or bring flooding and debris flows. Real-time data will also be incorporated into AR scale rankings, which can serve as a predictive indicator of the storm’s damage or benefit.

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“AR Recon has been a key monitoring element of the State’s Atmospheric River Research Program and is a great example of collaborative engagements that lead to improvements in precipitation prediction, providing multiple benefits to water managers seeking to understand climate change-caused weather extremes,” said Michael Anderson, state climatologist with the California Department of Water Resources.

As California alternates between extremes of drought and flood, accurate forecasts are increasingly vital to water managers. A collaborative program called Forecast-Informed Reservoir Operations (FIRO) uses modern forecasting methods to give reservoir operators better decision-making tools to optimize water resources. FIRO is developing the capability for these advanced forecasts to help water managers decide whether to retain water if no additional storms are forecast or release it to mitigate the risk of flooding.

Atmospheric river research helps forecasting, water management

“Research on atmospheric rivers from the Atmospheric River Reconnaissance program has helped us better predict, mitigate, and optimize these weather events in California,” said U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). “Applying this data through Forecast-Informed Reservoir Operations means better flood protection and improved water storage to help lessen the effects of drought.”

“Water managers within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have long maintained that they can do a better job of making water management decisions if weather forecasts were better – i.e. more accurate at longer lead times,” said Cary Talbot, chief of the Flood and Storm Protection Division at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center. “The AR Recon program, combined with the increased flexibility afforded by the FIRO program, is making better water management a reality in California and across the West because the forecasts are improving in both accuracy and lead time.”

AR Recon observations began in 2016. This year the mission window will expand to 13 weeks, three weeks longer than last year.

In addition to using dropsondes, the Air Force Reserves and ships of opportunity deployed 50 additional drifting buoys in key locations throughout the northeast Pacific this season, joining 48 buoys active from previous seasons. These buoys provide vital sea-level pressure, water temperature, and wave measurements from a region lacking data needed for numerical weather predictions and climate studies. The buoy deployments were completed in partnership with the Scripps-based, NOAA-funded Global Drifter Program (GDP), the California Department of Water Resources, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Data gathering using GPS signals

Air Force Reserve aircraft will also be equipped with what are known as airborne radio occultation capabilities. Proven on NOAA’s Gulfstream IV-SP platform in previous seasons, the airborne radio occultation technique uses GPS signals to detect variations in atmospheric properties and provide critical moisture and temperature profiles in the larger environment surrounding the aircraft, complementing the dropsondes.

Neither satellites nor other conventional observation methods can detect conditions captured from buoys and dropsondes. In offshore areas from the ground to a height of several miles, AR Recon dropsonde data account for most temperature and humidity observations and almost half of the wind observations. These data plug a serious gap in the standard network of weather observations impacting the U.S. mainland.

Weather officers and navigators of the U.S. Air Force Reserves will embed at Scripps Oceanography for flight planning this season, assisted by a team from NOAA’s Environmental Modeling Center and flight directors from NOAA’s Aircraft Operations Center. About 50 people aid flight planning throughout the season, including approximately 20 from Scripps Oceanography and up to 15 from the Air Force Reserves.

The AR Recon Program has grown from a demonstration phase in 2016 to an operational requirement in 2019 and is now included in the federal National Winter Season Operational Plan. It has expanded from flying three storm Intense Observation Periods in 2016 to 30 such periods in 2021, with more than 117 aircraft missions flown and data from more than 3,000 dropsondes assimilated in real-time operations.

AR Recon data used for global weather models

Leading global weather models at NOAA and the National Weather Service, the U.S. Navy, and European agencies and others incorporate AR Recon data into their forecasts. In the northeast Pacific, AR Recon observations have improved precipitation forecasts over the western United States. They also provide a more accurate analysis of upstream atmospheric conditions before potential high-impact weather events develop over the central and eastern parts of the country.

“Real-time assimilation of AR Recon observations have made a significant impact on NOAA’s operational GFS, particularly for the precipitation forecasts along the west coast of the United States, with forecast improvements exceeding 20-30 percent in areas where heavy precipitation occurs due to landfalling atmospheric rivers,” said Vijay Tallapragada, Chief of Modeling and Data Assimilation Branch at NOAA’s Environmental Modeling Center.

The Research and Operations partnership established through the AR Recon Program has enabled scientists from NOAA working closely with CW3E and the Navy in developing advanced sampling strategies for mission planning and targeted collection of observations critical for improving the analysis and forecasts. The AR Recon observations also have notably improved key aspects of NOAA’s GFS. Wind forecasts alone have improved by 17% after including AR Recon data. The Navy has found that AR Recon data improves forecasts as much as all the data collected from balloon-borne radiosondes in North America.

The recent report from NOAA’s Science Advisory Board on Priorities for Weather Research explicitly recommended the implementation of a multi-phase program to improve atmospheric river forecasting to better anticipate and mitigate extreme precipitation swings and their cascading impacts.

In 2022, the AR Recon Program will include, for the first time, real-time data collection and feedback that can instantly impact experiments being carried out with NOAA’s GFS. Making this possible are the computational resources provided by San Diego Supercomputer Center’s “COMET” to facilitate documenting the forecast improvements and support mission planning.

(Editor’s Note: Follow the work of Scripps Institution of Oceanography scientists at the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes on Twitter at @CW3E_Scripps, the U.S. Air Force Reserves Weather Reconnaissance Squadron at @53rdWRS, and NOAA Aircraft Operations Center at @NOAA_HurrHunter.)

Opinion: To Fight Climate Change, We Must Redesign San Diego Communities

As the world struggles for consensus on climate action and national policy focuses on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the impacts of climate change occur all around us. Drought, intense heat, wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes and rising seas, all on a scale not previously seen and often happening concurrently, bear witness to this.

Giant Ocean Simulator at Scripps Will Help Probe Effects of Climate Change

Scripps Institution of Oceanography dedicated a giant ocean simulator Monday that will help researchers understand the effects of climate change on the world’s oceans.

The 120-foot-long, 36,000-gallon “miniature ocean” housed at Scripps’ Hydraulics Laboratory will enable scientists to preview the oceans and atmospheres of the future in which climate is altered even further by human activities.

Scripps, CW3E and Yuba Water Agency Launched Weather Balloons During Atmospheric River

On Sunday morning, during the atmospheric river event in Northern California, scientists from the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes (CW3E) at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography at UC San Diego and their partners at Yuba Water Agency launched weather balloons to gather data on the AR and its impacts on reservoirs.

Atmospheric River events in Water Year 2021

(Editor’s Note: The Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes, or CW3E, at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, released its report October 11 on atmospheric rivers during Water Year 2021.

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Distribution of Landfalling Atmospheric Rivers over the U.S. West Coast During Water Year 2021: End of Water Year Summary. Graphic: Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes

The San Diego County Water Authority partnered with the Scripps Institution of OceanographyCenter for Western Weather and Water Extremes, at UC San Diego in 2020 to better predict atmospheric rivers and improve water management before, during, and after those seasonal storms. The Center and its partners share best practices in forecast-informed reservoir operations, increased research around atmospheric rivers and droughts, and develop strategies for mitigating flood risk and increasing water supply reliability.)

Scripps Researchers Call for More Collaboration to Combat Local Effects of Climate Change

A team of experts recommended increased effort, coordination and engagement by San Diego agencies and researchers to build climate resilience with attention to disadvantaged communities.

Those areas are particularly susceptible to climate change impacts, according to a report released Thursday.

Carbon Dioxide in Atmosphere Reaches New High Despite Pandemic, Scripps Reports

Atmospheric carbon dioxide measured at NOAA’s Mauna Loa Observatory peaked for 2021 in May at a monthly average of 419 parts per million, the highest level since accurate measurements began 63 years ago, Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego reported Monday.

Scripps scientist Charles David Keeling initiated on-site measurements of carbon dioxide atop the volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii in 1958. NOAA began measurements in 1974, and the two research institutions have made complementary, independent observations ever since.

New Research Finds Climate Models Mostly Get It Right

New climate research, which was done mostly in San Diego, finds that a study of land temperatures during the last ice age confirms some widely held thoughts about climate change.

Lead author Alan Seltzer, a paleoclimatologist at the Wood’s Hole Oceanographic Institute, studied ancient water as a way to gain insight into previously unrecorded planetary temperatures.