EGU22-2993, updated on 27 Mar 2022
EGU General Assembly 2022
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Spatio-temporal synchronization of heavy rainfall events triggered by atmospheric rivers in North America

Frederik Wolf1, Sara M. Vallejo-Bernal1,2, Niklas Boers1,3,4, Norbert Marwan1,2, Dominik Traxl1, and Jürgen Kurths1,2,5
Frederik Wolf et al.
  • 1Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Berlin, Germany (
  • 2Institute of Geoscience, University of Potsdam, Germany
  • 3Earth System Modelling, School of Engineering & Design, Technical University of Munich, Germany
  • 4Global Systems Institute and Department of Mathematics, University of Exeter, UK
  • 5Lobachevsky University of Nizhny Novgorod, Nizhny Novgorod, Russia

Atmospheric rivers (ARs) are filaments of extensive water vapor transport in the lower troposphere. They are important triggers of heavy rainfall events, contributing to more than 50% of the rainfall sums in some regions along the western coast of North America. ARs play a crucial role in the distribution of water, but can also cause natural and economical damage by facilitating heavy rainfall. Here, we investigate the large-scale spatio-temporal synchronization patterns of heavy rainfall triggered by ARs over the western coast and the continental regions of North America.

For our work, we employ daily ERA5 rainfall estimates at a spatial resolution of 0.25°x0.25° latitude and longitude which we threshold at the 95th percentile to obtain binary time series indicating the absence or presence of heavy rainfall. Subsequently, we separate periods with ARs and periods without ARs and investigate the differing spatial synchronization pattern of heavy rainfall. To establish that our results are not dependent on the chosen AR catalog, this is conducted in two different ways: first based on a recently published catalog by Gershunov et al. (2017) , and second based on a catalog constructed using the IPART algorithm (Xu et al, 2020). For both approaches, we subsequently utilize event synchronization and a complex network framework to reveal distinct spatial patterns of heavy rainfall events for periods with and without active ARs. Using composites of upper-level meridional wind, we attribute the formation of the rainfall synchronization patterns to well-known atmospheric circulation configurations, whose intensity scales with the strength of the ARs. Furthermore, we demonstrate that enhanced AR activity is going in hand with a suppressed seasonal shift of the characteristic meridional wind pattern. To verify and illustrate how small changes of the high-level meridional wind affect the distribution of heavy rainfall, we, additionally, perform a case study focusing on the boreal winter.

Our results indicate the strong sensitivity of the intensity, location, frequency, and pattern of synchronized heavy rainfall events related to ARs to small changes in the large-scale circulation.

How to cite: Wolf, F., Vallejo-Bernal, S. M., Boers, N., Marwan, N., Traxl, D., and Kurths, J.: Spatio-temporal synchronization of heavy rainfall events triggered by atmospheric rivers in North America, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-2993,, 2022.

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