Local scientists launch weather balloons to study ‘atmospheric river’

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Data pix.

SAN DIEGO - Local scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography are closely watching a storm system as it moves into Southern California.

Scientists are releasing weather balloons every three hours to study the storm system, classified as an atmospheric river.

"An atmospheric river is just a large amount of moisture that's associated with the system," said program analyst Brian Kawzenuk. "An atmospheric river is sort of what it sounds like: it's a river in the atmosphere."

The weather balloons will collect a plethora of data including temperature, wind speed, direction and more, allowing scientists to map out a vertical profile of the atmosphere as the system approaches.

Scripps scientists told FOX 5 this is a unique opportunity to conduct research, since these storms can be few and far between in Southern California.

"We're lucky if we maybe get one to two strong atmospheric rivers into San Diego itself, and so having a storm this far south is a unique research opportunity for us," said Kawzenuk.

Meanwhile, U.S. Air Force Hurricane Hunters are conducting another part of the data collecting process. Two of the specialized aircraft will fly above the storm. It's all part of a larger effort to better understand atmospheric rivers and how they impact water supply.

"An atmospheric river is bringing that high amount of moisture and that really humid air up into the latitudes and into California and when we have high values of moister that can condense and make higher amounts of precipitation and rain or snowfall in California," Kawzenuk explained.

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