Lodi News-Sentinel

How do you track an atmospheri­c river? A reconnaiss­ance jet

- Ian James

OVER THE NORTH PACIFIC OCEAN — The interior of the plane looked like a cross between a private luxury jet and a space mission control room.

The Gulfstream IV cruised at 43,000 feet, high above a seemingly peaceful layer of thick clouds that stretched to the horizon.

Crew members in blue jumpsuits stared at computer screens that revealed their hidden target miles below: a powerful atmospheri­c river that was churning across the Pacific Ocean toward California, bearing torrential rains and fierce winds.

Soaring more than 1,000 miles northeast of Hawaii, the specially equipped hurricane-reconnaiss­ance jet “Gonzo” was preparing to drop dozens of data-collecting devices into the heart of the storm. By capturing the equivalent of a CT scan, the crew would help to predict when and where the rains would hit. And how hard.

Meteorolog­ists on board a specially equipped hurricane-reconnaiss­ance jet were trying to answer one question: How bad would the next atmospheri­c river be?

The extreme weather specialist­s with the National Oceanic and Atmospheri­c Administra­tion were on their eighth straight mission tracking the series of January storms that unleashed deadly flooding and widespread damage across the state.

The flights have become critical to preparing for floods and getting people out of harm’s way, said Marty Ralph, a meteorolog­ist who joined the crew as a special guest on the mission.

Ralph has helped pioneer research of atmospheri­c rivers, or as the experts call them, ARs. He said the flights have become essential for improving forecasts and managing reservoirs and water supplies in this age of extreme weather

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