SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — After 43-days without rain, a strong storm is making a beeline for the Bay Area, and a mission on the Pacific Ocean could unlock a solution to our ongoing drought.

A crew of 18 scientists from NOAA, The Department of Energy, and Howard University is sailing aboard the Ronald H. Brown directly into the path of the approaching storm.

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Their mission is to study, and possibly unlock the mysteries of the “Atmospheric River” phenomenon – narrow ribbons of water vapor that stretch thousands of miles from the tropics to the west coast.  Those rivers can carry fifteen times the amount of water as the Mississippi River.

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KPIX 5 Weather Center

“They’re responsible for 40 to 50 percent of the rainfall in many areas of California,” Chief Scientist on the mission Chris Fairall told KPIX 5 Chief Meteorologist Paul Deanno.

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The Bay Area got hit with one of those massive storms brought on by the “river” in December, but the state needs about five of those soakers to put a dent in the drought.