Created with data from the Global Forecast System model, this data visualization shows atmospheric moisture over the central Pacific Ocean on January 3. Satellites can detect this moisture and the data can then be used to calculate what’s known as the “total precipitable water” content of the atmosphere — the amount of water that could theoretically precipitate if the conditions were ideal.
Visible in this data imagery are the bands of moisture that encircle the equator, along with so-called “atmospheric rivers” that transport moisture from these areas to higher latitudes. Note the larger of the two atmospheric rivers in this graphic that is responsible for the heavy precipitation occurring in parts of the West this week.
Link to full article: https://www.nnvl.noaa.gov/MediaDetail2.php?MediaID=1983&MediaTypeID=1