Dr. Rob Cifelli, research meteorologist, for the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in Boulder Colorado says that a new early warning weather system is being put in place to better anticipate and plan for storms hitting Northern California:

“When big storms hit California, current technology often does not provide forecasters with the accurate and timely information for risk-based decision-making affecting reservoir operations, flood protection, wastewater systems and emergency preparedness. Standard weather radars are often unable to give an accurate picture of what is happening in the complex landscape of California’s coastal mountain ranges. Improved monitoring and prediction of precipitation in the San Francisco Bay region can enhance public safety through early warning and storm tracking when hazardous weather events come onshore.”

The Advanced Quantitative Precipitation Information (AQPI) system is a regional project awarded to NOAA and collaborating partners by the California Department of Water Resources. The AQPI system consists of improved weather radar data and additional surface measurements for detailed precipitation, streamflow, and soil moisture monitoring, and a suite of advanced forecast modeling systems to improve lead time on precipitation and coastal Bay inundation from extreme storms—especially high-moisture laden atmospheric rivers.

Cifelli notes that: “Weather forecast models use a plethora of observations (including satellite and radar data) to help the models get the initial conditions correct. For weather impacting the West Coast, satellite observations over the Pacific are very important because there’s not much else out there in the way of observations.”

The primary radar network used by the weather service is called NEXRAD: “ NEXRAD is used for monitoring a variety of weather situations and, to satisfy multiple requirements coming from NOAA, FAA, and DoD.  It provides the macro picture of incoming weather but does not always provide more detailed patterns that occur closer to the ground and, in the Bay area, that includes the variability in rainfall patterns from one location to another.”

AQPI is deploying five state-of-the-art weather radars to fill coverage gaps offshore and the Bay Area urban region. The result will be that the systems will capture more detail, provide a better picture of rainfall patterns and amounts, and help improve precipitation, streamflow, and coastal flood forecasting. Eight of these radar systems have already been deployed in Dallas, Texas. The result is even greater detail for urban areas to anticipate weather events such as heavy rains, flooding events, and tornadoes. 


Key features are:

  • Five new, state-of-the-art radar systems to improve monitoring of precipitation offshore and within the Bay region.
  • High-resolution precipitation forecasts.
  • Coastal flooding, storm surge, and tributary streamflow forecasts.

Additionally, AQPI will integrate the weather gauge data that water departments and other localities use to measure rains so that all the information is available in one location and can be more easily accessed:

“Scientists are engaged in ongoing research to evaluate what impact climate change is having on weather patterns, including weather that impacts the Bay area. The phenomenon of what we call today the ‘atmospheric river’ is a continuation of what we had called the ‘pineapple express phenomenon’ in which water vapor from the tropics is transported into the midlatitudes in long narrow ribbons.  As these ribbons of enhanced water vapor intercept mountains along the west coast of the U.S., the air is forced to rise, producing rain and snow that replenishes water supplies but can also produce flooding.”

It appears that we are seeing an increasing intensity of weather impacting the United States as well as other countries around the world. 

The AQPI system will now provide not just better forecasting, but also improved data acquisition to help us better prepare for future extreme weather events.” 


Finally, weather forecasting is vital to U.S.  infrastructure planning and construction. There is a need to incorporate this into current infrastructure construction: 

“For example, state and federal agencies are designing dams and other water infrastructure based on extreme weather patterns documented in the historical record (usually the last fifty to one hundred years). The problem is that past weather problems may no longer be a good guide for the future because of the impact of climate change. Thus, the construction of locks, dams, highways, overpasses, and bridges will all need to consider climate change in their planning for the future, a subject of active research. “

Cifelli cited a dam that nearly collapsed in Northern California due to a record number of storms dumping rain and snow in the watershed.