A major scientific study of atmospheric rivers will get a boost from a storm system headed toward California later in the week.
Once known as a Pineapple Express, an atmospheric river system that begins in the Pacific, often passing over Hawaii on its way inland.
"Atmospheric rivers are the make or break phenomena for the west coast water problem," said researcher Marty Ralph of Scripps Oceanography/UCSD.
He and other researchers sponsored in large part by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration said the use of four aircraft, three of them flying out of McClellan Field in Sacramento, will greatly enhance their efforts to study particles known as aerosols that help form rain and snow.
The airplanes have sophisticated instruments that analyze moisture and drop probes onto the ocean surface.
"Kind of finding the smoking gun, we wanted to find out exactly what aerosols allow the water vapor to condense," said Ruby Leung of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.
The planes will fly into the heart of the atmospheric rivers to collect data in a study that will take several years to complete. Some of the data will go into current weather forecasting models as well.
In addition to the three airplane fleet assembled at McClellan for the research, another provided by NASA will play a role along with the International Space Station and a surface ship that is currently cruising the Pacific underneath the approaching weather pattern.
The California Department of Water Resources, which monitors flooding as well as drought conditions, will benefit from the research.
"To do an experiment of this scale exceeds our capacity to organize and fund, and in that respect we benefit from the interest by the federal government," said DWR climatologist Michael Anderson.