Global climate change

Climate change may lead to longer and wider atmospheric rivers

By Brett Anderson, AccuWeather senior meteorologist
5/30/2018, 11:38:57 AM

New research from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory indicates that climate change will cause atmospheric rivers to become increasingly longer and wider by the end of this century.

Graphic courtesy of NOAA.

Atmospheric rivers are long, and narrow (250-375 miles wide) jets of air that carry massive amounts of water vapor from the tropics to regions that can be located as far away as the middle and high latitudes.

Atmospheric rivers can bring much needed precipitation but can also be responsible for major flooding and extreme snowfall.

An example of an atmospheric river (circled) impacting the U.S. West Coast. Image courtesy NOAA.

The research team, led by Duane Waliser of NASA's JPL, stated that the results of this study are based on the assumption that greenhouse gas emissions will continue at the current rate.

Even though atmospheric rivers will likely become longer and wider, the results showed that there will be about a 10 percent decrease in atmospheric rivers globally by the end of the 21st century.

Regardless of the decrease, the trend toward longer and wider atmospheric rivers is expected to produce a 50 percent increase in heavy rain and strong wind events globally. In addition, the frequency of the most intense atmospheric rivers may nearly double by the end of the 21st century.


For information on how the research team cam to their conclusions, see the NASA News report.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or


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Global climate change