How well were the early 2017 California Atmospheric River precipitation events captured by satellite products and ground-based radars?

Yixin Wen, Ali Behrangi, Haonan Chen, Bjorn Lambrigtsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


In January and February of 2017, California experienced multiple heavy storms that caused serious destruction of facilities and economic loss, although it also helped to reduce water storage deficit due to prolonged drought in previous years. These extreme precipitation events were mainly associated with Atmospheric Rivers (ARs) and brought about 174 km3 of water to California according to ground observations. This article evaluates the performance of six commonly used satellite-based precipitation products (IMERG, 3B42RT, PERSIANN, CCS, CMORPH and GSMaP), as well as ground-based radar products (Radar-only and Radar-lgc) in capturing the ARs precipitation rate and distribution. It is found that precipitation maps from all products present heavy precipitation in January and February, with more consistent observations over ocean than land. Though large uncertainties exist in quantitative precipitation estimation (QPE) over land, the ensemble mean of different remote-sensing precipitation products over California is consistent with gauge measurements. Among the six satellite-based products, IMERG correlates the best with gauge observations both in the detection and quantification of precipitation, but it is not the best product in terms of root-mean-square error or bias. Compared to satellite products, ground weather radar shows better precipitation detectability and estimation skill. However, neither radar nor satellite QPE products have good performances in quantifying the peak precipitation intensity during the extreme events, suggesting that further advancement in quantification of extremely intense precipitation associated with ARs in the western United States is needed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)344-359
Number of pages16
JournalQuarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society
StatePublished - Nov 2018


  • Atmospheric River
  • QPE
  • extreme events
  • ground weather radar
  • remote sensing
  • satellite
  • water resources

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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