Extreme snowfall events linked to atmospheric rivers and surface air temperature via satellite measurements



[1] Narrow bands of strong atmospheric water vapor transport, referred to as “atmospheric rivers” (ARs), are responsible for the majority of wintertime extreme precipitation events with important contributions to the seasonal water balance. We investigate relationships between snow water equivalent (SWE), precipitation, and surface air temperature (SAT) across the Sierra Nevada for 45 wintertime AR events. Analysis of assimilated and in situ data for water years 2004–2010 indicates that ARs on average generate ∼4 times daily SWE accumulation of non-AR storms. In addition, AR events contributed ∼30–40% of total seasonal SWE accumulation in most years, with the contribution dominated by just 1–2 extreme events in some cases. In situ and remotely sensed observations show that SWE changes associated with ARs are closely related to SAT. These results reveal the previously unexplored significance of ARs with regard to the snowpack and associated sensitivities of AR precipitation to SAT.