Predicting floods from the air - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Predicting floods from the air

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SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) – A special weather system is getting lots of attention, especially in light of the upcoming rain. It's called an atmospheric river.

Three days of rain, major street flooding, and a major headache for some San Diegans. Last week's rain had all the right ingredients: a tropical flare, a low pressure center that wouldn't move and a long train of moisture. It's known as an Atmospheric River -- a large body of moisture flowing through the sky.

It's an important weather element to understand, since it's typically associated with flooding. Director of the Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes, Dr. Marty Ralph, wants to forecast such features with better precision.

"When we look out here we see storms coming with satellite data, beautiful data and it tells us a lot but it doesn't tell us everything we need to know, and it's very hard for the numerical weather prediction models and forecasters to know exactly what's going on without specialized observations," Ralph said.

So what's missing in these observations? Wind.

"With the research aircraft we're able to go out and observe those winds and see what they are in reality, learn about how atmospheric rivers behave, how strong they are what their structure is. Then we can compare that with how the forecast models were representing them before they reach the shore, and that helps us understand some of the origins of the forecast errors," Ralph said.

In order to predict rain arrival down to the minute and better prepare for floods, Ralph and his team are heading out this winter to explore the atmosphere by air and sea.

"The experiment this winter is called CalWater. We're bringing together researchers on atmospheric rivers and aerosols can impact clouds and precipitation to study these more. We have aircraft from NOAA, NASA to really pour the coals to study this problem," he said.

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