Climate Dynamics

, Volume 48, Issue 9–10, pp 2771–2795 | Cite as

Twentieth-century atmospheric river activity along the west coasts of Europe and North America: algorithm formulation, reanalysis uncertainty and links to atmospheric circulation patterns

  • S. Brands
  • J. M. Gutiérrez
  • D. San-Martín


A new atmospheric-river detection and tracking scheme based on the magnitude and direction of integrated water vapour transport is presented and applied separately over 13 regions located along the west coasts of Europe (including North Africa) and North America. Four distinct reanalyses are considered, two of which cover the entire twentieth-century: NOAA-CIRES Twentieth Century Reanalysis v2 (NOAA-20C) and ECMWF ERA-20C. Calculations are done separately for the OND and JFM-season and, for comparison with previous studies, for the ONDJFM-season as a whole. Comparing the AR-counts from NOAA-20C and ERA-20C with a running 31-year window looping through 1900–2010 reveals differences in the climatological mean and inter-annual variability which, at the start of the twentieth-century, are much more pronounced in western North America than in Europe. Correlating European AR-counts with the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) reveals a pattern reminiscent of the well-know precipitation dipole which is stable throughout the entire century. A similar analysis linking western North American AR-counts to the North Pacific index (NPI) is hampered by the aforementioned poor reanalysis agreement at the start of the century. During the second half of the twentieth-century, the strength of the NPI-link considerably varies with time in British Columbia and the Gulf of Alaska. Considering the period 1950–2010, AR-counts are then associated with other relevant large-scale circulation indices such as the East Atlantic, Scandinavian, Pacific-North American and West Pacific patterns (EA, SCAND, PNA and WP). Along the Atlantic coastline of the Iberian Peninsula and France, the EA-link is stronger than the NAO-link if the OND season is considered and the SCAND-link found in northern Europe is significant during both seasons. Along the west coast of North America, teleconnections are generally stronger during JFM in which case the NPI-link is significant in any of the five considered subregions, the PNA-link is significant in British Columbia and the Gulf of Alaska and the WP-link is so along the U.S. West Coast. During OND, these links are significant in the Gulf of Alaska only. If AR-counts are calculated upon persistent (instead of instantaneous) ARs, the link to the NAO weakens over the British Isles and western Iberia. For the experimental set-ups most closely mirroring those applied in Lavers et al. (J Geophys Res Atmos 117, 2012. doi: 10.1029/2012JD018027) and Ramos et al. (J Hydrometeorol 16(2):579–597, 2015. doi: 10.1175/JHM-D-14-0103.1), the NAO-links are completely or partly insignificant indicating that the inclusion of the persistence criterion notably alters the results. Visual support for the present study is provided by an exhaustive historical atmospheric river archive built at


Atmospheric rivers Reanalysis data Twentieth century Atmospheric circulation Europe North America 



The authors would like to thank Jorge Eiras-Barca, Daniel Garaboa, Dr. Gonzalo Miguez-Macho, Dr. David Lavers and two anonymous referees for their constructive criticism and helpful advice. They acknowledge the use of the climate indices provided by UCAR and the Climate Prediction Center, the ECMWF ERA-20C and ERA-Interim reanalyses, the NOAA-CIRES twentieth Century Reanalysis version 2 and the NCEP/NCAR reanalysis 1 SB would like to thank the TRAGSA Group and the CSIC JAE-PREDOC programme for financial support.

Supplementary material

382_2016_3095_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (385 kb)
Fig. S01) As Fig. 9, but for de-trended data (pdf 385 KB)
382_2016_3095_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (399 kb)
Fig. S02) As Fig. 10, but for de-trended data (pdf 398 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.MeteoGalicia - Consellería de Medio Ambiente e Ordenación do TerritorioXunta de GaliciaSantiago de CompostelaSpain
  2. 2.Instituto de Física de Cantabria (CSIC-UC)SantanderSpain
  3. 3.Predictia Intelligent Data SolutionsSantanderSpain

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