Himawari-8 satellite image of an Atmospheric River ahead of a cold front in June 2021 (sourced from the Bureau of Meteorology)

Atmospheric rivers are narrow regions of strong moisture transport in the lower atmosphere. They can cause beneficial rainfall – on average, atmospheric rivers contribute 20 to 35 percent of south-east Australia’s and 10 to 20 percent of south-west Australia’s annual rainfall. However, they can also be disastrous, with 20 to 30 percent of the heaviest rainfall days in the northern Murray-Darling Basin occurring during atmospheric rivers – including the devastating February-March floods in 2022. That year, Dr Kim Reid and co-authors published the first study to quantify the effects of atmospheric rivers over all of Australia. Current Centre of Excellence research is exploring how we can better predict these systems and their future behaviour.

Reid, K.J., King, A.D., Lane, T.P., Hudson, D., 2022. Tropical, subtropical and extratropical atmospheric rivers in the Australian region. Journal of Climate 35, 2697–2708. https://doi.org/10.1175/JCLI-D-21-0606.1