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Posted on: February 3, 2021

Atmospheric rivers bring rain, snow and research opportunities

A male and female hold up a weather balloon as they stand in front of flooded rice fields.

Over the course of the past week, Scripps Institution of Oceanography field teams successfully launched a series of weather balloons throughout Northern California to monitor the season’s first series of significant atmospheric river events.

Data collected from monitoring equipment attached to weather balloons, including several deployed from Yuba Water's warehouse on Kibbe Road, feed global computer weather models used to improve forecasting and inform decision-making during extreme weather. In Yuba County, where more than 90 percent of floods are caused by atmospheric rivers, this data is critical for operational planning and flood risk reduction efforts.

“Due to the dry conditions we’ve had over the last few years, this is the first opportunity we’ve had to release weather balloons during an atmospheric river,” explained John James, Yuba Water’s water operations project manager. “It’s pretty exciting that we’re able to collect information in real-time and then quickly use that data to inform our operations.”

Using funding from Yuba Water and the California Department of Water Resources, Scripps has also established several permanent monitoring sites throughout the Yuba and Feather watersheds. The sites collect continuous meteorological data like air temperature, humidity, pressure and precipitation. In addition, soil moisture sensors and freezing level radars have been installed to monitor the specific state of the atmosphere and the ground. This helps water managers better understand where the snowline begins and ends and better prepare for runoff as snow begins to melt. These observations all combine to support improving the forecast of runoff flows associated with storms and atmospheric rivers.

Collectively, the work is part of Yuba Water’s Forecast Informed Reservoir Operations (FIRO) program in the Yuba and Feather River watersheds, which, when combined with the agency's planned secondary spillway at New Bullards Bar, aims to reduce flood risk, improve climate resiliency and improve public safety.

Learn more about Forecast-Informed Reservoir Operations:


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