Episode 169: What is an Atmospheric River?

Meet the Expert:  Dr. Kristine Harper, meteorologist and professor of the history of science

Dr. Kristine HarperDr. Kristine Harper is a professor of history. She joined the Florida State University faculty in 2008. Dr. Harper conducts historical research at the nexus of the history of science, history of technology, and environmental history from the late nineteenth through the twentieth century, with special emphasis on the Cold War. A meteorologist and oceanographer before turning to the history of science, Dr. Harper has focused primarily on the history of atmospheric science in the United States. Her first monograph, Weather by the Numbers: The Genesis of Modern Meteorology (MIT Press, 2008) examined the development of numerical weather prediction models in the immediate post-World War II, which were heavily funded by US military. Her latest monograph, Make it Rain: State Control of the Atmosphere in Twentieth Century America (Chicago, 2017) addresses the influence of the American state on efforts to deliberately control atmospheric processes for military and diplomatic purposes abroad, and for domestic purposes, primarily hydropower and agriculture, at home. Make it Rain was the awarded the Louis Battan Author’s Prize by the American Meteorological Association and the Florida Book Awards Bronze Medal for the General Nonfiction in 2018. She was also the coeditor (with Ronald Doel and Matthias Heymann) of Exploring Greenland: Cold War Science and Technology on Ice (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016).


Atmospheric Rivers have been happening for many years, but are only recently in the news. 

Click on this NOAA website to learn more about atmospheric rivers. 


atmospheric river from NASA JPL

This explanation of an atmospheric river is from NASA JPL 




Challenge: Find the width of your local river. Divide it by 350 miles to find out how many times bigger an atmospheric river is than your river. 

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The Weather Book by Lonely Planet


Highlighted book for this episode! 

The Weather Book (Lonely Planet) by Steve Parker

Get your umbrella, your sun hat and your snowshoes ready for this thrill-packed journey through the world of weather. Find out about different climates and weather patterns; discover the processes that drive them; learn the secrets of forecasting the weather and read about record-breaking weather and weird weather events, such as ‘animal rain’, ‘ice bombs’, ‘ball lightning’ and much more. This title also looks at the hot topics of pollution and climate change – how human activity can affect the weather, the impact of global warming and, most importantly, what we can all do to help. It’s packed with fascinating facts and stories that will bring the extraordinary world of weather to life, making it perfect for budding meteorologists, young and old!



Book List:

National Geographic Kids Everything Weather: Facts, Photos, and Fun that Will Blow You Away by Kathy Furgang

STEM Starters for Kids Meteorology Activity Book: Packed with Activities and Meteorology Facts by Jenny Jacoby (Author), Vicky Barker (Illustrator)

Weather (DK Eyewitness) Part of: Eyewonder (15 books) | by DK |

The Everything KIDS’ Weather Book: From Tornadoes to Snowstorms, Puzzles, Games, and Facts That Make Weather for Kids Fun!
by Joseph Snedeker

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