• atmospheric rivers;
  • heavy precipitation;
  • flooding

[1] A 20-year regional climate simulated by the Weather Research and Forecasting model has been analyzed to study the influence of the atmospheric rivers and land surface conditions on heavy precipitation and flooding in the western U.S. The simulation realistically captured the mean and extreme precipitation, and the precipitation/temperature anomalies of all the atmospheric river events between 1980–1999. Contrasting the 1986 President Day and 1997 New Year Day events, differences in atmospheric stability have an influence on the spatial distribution of precipitation. Although both cases yielded similar precipitation, the 1997 case produced more runoff. Antecedent soil moisture, rainfall versus snowfall, and existing snowpack all seem to play a role, leading to a higher runoff to precipitation ratio for the 1997 case. This study underscores the importance of the atmospheric rivers and land surface conditions for predicting heavy precipitation and floods in the current and future climate of the western U.S.