Padilla Introduces Bill to Bolster Atmospheric River Forecasting

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) introduced the Atmospheric Rivers Reconnaissance, Observation and Warning Act, legislation that would improve the accuracy and timeliness of West Coast Atmospheric River (AR) forecasts by directing the Air Force and NOAA to provide the necessary aircraft, personnel, and equipment to meet AR mission requirements during the winter season in the West Coast. As the frequency and intensity of AR storms increase, winter season reconnaissance flights are critical for more accurately anticipating the landfall and severity of ARs, enabling communities to better prepare for and mitigate damage from storm events and improve water management. 

The Air Force Reserve’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, also known as the “Hurricane Hunters,” fly specially equipped aircraft directly into the eye of a storm to collect valuable, real-time data that allows water managers, disaster responders, researchers, and meteorologists to better predict the impact of storm events. Improving the prediction and landfall of ARs is critical to enhancing public safety and supporting emergency services, water management, and flood control. ARs are the primary driver of both drought and major flooding events impacting the entire western region, causing nearly 90% of the flood damages across the West. California alone was hit by 31 AR storm events that caused hazardous flooding and record snowpack.

“The deadly atmospheric rivers that hit California this winter underscore why bolstering our ability to more accurately predict the landfall and severity of atmospheric rivers is essential and life-saving,” said Senator Padilla. “As we prepare to face more extreme weather events in the future, we must ensure that the Air Force and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s winter atmospheric river reconnaissance missions can continue to help us better understand and effectively respond to the atmospheric river events that threaten communities across the West.”

Specifically, this legislation would:

  • Direct the Air Force Reserve’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron and NOAA to provide aircraft, personnel, and equipment to meet the AR mission requirements during the winter season in the West Coast, from November through March.
  • Direct the Air Force, in consultation with NOAA, to: improve the accuracy and timeliness of West Coast atmospheric river forecasts and warning services; collect data in sensitive oceanic regions where conventional, upper-air observations are lacking and satellites are unable to effectively resolve the position and vertical structure of the atmospheric river and of other nearby essential atmospheric structures offshore; support water management decisions and flood forecasting through the execution of targeted airborne dropsonde and buoy observations over the Eastern, Central and Western North Pacific Ocean to improve forecasts of the landfall and impacts of Atmospheric Rivers for civil authorities and military decision makers; participate in the Research and Operations Partnership, which guides flight planning and uses research methods to improve and expand the capabilities and effectiveness of AR Reconnaissance over time; and undertake additional activities to further the reconnaissance mission.

Earlier this year, Senator Padilla visited the communities of Watsonville and Pajaro, who were impacted by recent extreme storms, to support recovery efforts. Padilla also successfully led the California Congressional delegation in urging the Biden Administration to approve a Major Disaster Declaration for the most recent severe winter storms and atmospheric river systems. Padilla sent a letter to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) Assistant Secretary for the Army for Civil Works, Mike Connor, in which he supported the coordination between the Corps and California’s Department of Water Resources and asked the Corps to assess its current authorities to provide assistance to communities facing flood risks in the Central Valley.

Full text of the bill is available here.


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