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Atmospheric rivers (ARs), and frontal systems more broadly, tend to exhibit prominent “V” shapes in time series of stable isotopes in precipitation. Despite the magnitude and widespread nature of these “V” shapes, debate persists as to whether these shifts are driven by changes in the degree of rainout, which we determine using the Rayleigh distillation of stable isotopes, or by post-condensation processes such as below-cloud evaporation and equilibrium isotope exchange between hydrometeors and surrounding vapor. Here, we present paired precipitation and water vapor isotope time series records from the 5–7 March 2016, AR in Bodega Bay, CA. The stable isotope composition of surface vapor along with independent meteorological constraints such as temperature and relative humidity reveal that rainout and post-condensation processes dominate during different portions of the event. We find that Rayleigh distillation controls during peak AR conditions (with peak rainout of 55%) while post-condensation processes have their greatest effect during periods of decreased precipitation on the margins of the event. These results and analyses inform critical questions regarding the temporal evolution of AR events and the physical processes that control them at local scales.


© 2019 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (



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