In 1994, the term “atmospheric river” appeared in a paper to describe narrow amounts of atmospheric water vapor across the mid-latitudes but now a week doesn't go by without a weather forecaster on the local news claiming it is hitting their viewers.

The catchy name was new but the phenomenon was well-known prior to that. Scientists had long known that how moisture is transported through the atmosphere makes a difference in snowpacks and floods. The "Pineapple Express" is a well-known current from Hawaii to California and early analyses of climate changed were criticized for not controlling during those or events like El Nino.

Now it is known that desert states like California rely on these atmospheric rivers for up to 50 percent of their water and if they don't happen that will mean drought.

A new study shows that too many are why Arctic ice sometimes recovers poorly. If too many reach the Arctic in winter, it slows sea ice recovery. The authors combined satellite data with computer estimates and say these storms are increasingly reaching the Arctic — particularly the Barents and Kara seas off the northern coasts of Norway and Russia — during the winter ice-growing season. 

Warm moisture carried by these storms increases downward longwave radiation, or heat emitted back to Earth from the atmosphere, and produces rain, both of which can melt the thin, fragile ice cover regrowing during the winter months.

Using satellite remote sensing images, the scientists observed sea ice retreat almost immediately following atmospheric river storms and saw the retreat persisted for up to 10 days. Because of this melting and because the storms are becoming more common, atmospheric rivers are slowing down seasonal sea-ice recovery in the Arctic, the scientists said.