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Use of medium-range numerical weather prediction model output to produce forecasts of streamflow

January 1, 2004

This paper examines an archive containing over 40 years of 8-day atmospheric forecasts over the contiguous United States from the NCEP reanalysis project to assess the possibilities for using medium-range numerical weather prediction model output for predictions of streamflow. This analysis shows the biases in the NCEP forecasts to be quite extreme. In many regions, systematic precipitation biases exceed 100% of the mean, with temperature biases exceeding 3°C. In some locations, biases are even higher. The accuracy of NCEP precipitation and 2-m maximum temperature forecasts is computed by interpolating the NCEP model output for each forecast day to the location of each station in the NWS cooperative network and computing the correlation with station observations. Results show that the accuracy of the NCEP forecasts is rather low in many areas of the country. Most apparent is the generally low skill in precipitation forecasts (particularly in July) and low skill in temperature forecasts in the western United States, the eastern seaboard, and the southern tier of states. These results outline a clear need for additional processing of the NCEP Medium-Range Forecast Model (MRF) output before it is used for hydrologic predictions. Techniques of model output statistics (MOS) are used in this paper to downscale the NCEP forecasts to station locations. Forecasted atmospheric variables (e.g., total column precipitable water, 2-m air temperature) are used as predictors in a forward screening multiple linear regression model to improve forecasts of precipitation and temperature for stations in the National Weather Service cooperative network. This procedure effectively removes all systematic biases in the raw NCEP precipitation and temperature forecasts. MOS guidance also results in substantial improvements in the accuracy of maximum and minimum temperature forecasts throughout the country. For precipitation, forecast improvements were less impressive. MOS guidance increases he accuracy of precipitation forecasts over the northeastern United States, but overall, the accuracy of MOS-based precipitation forecasts is slightly lower than the raw NCEP forecasts. Four basins in the United States were chosen as case studies to evaluate the value of MRF output for predictions of streamflow. Streamflow forecasts using MRF output were generated for one rainfall-dominated basin (Alapaha River at Statenville, Georgia) and three snowmelt-dominated basins (Animas River at Durango, Colorado: East Fork of the Carson River near Gardnerville, Nevada: and Cle Elum River near Roslyn, Washington). Hydrologic model output forced with measured-station data were used as "truth" to focus attention on the hydrologic effects of errors in the MRF forecasts. Eight-day streamflow forecasts produced using the MOS-corrected MRF output as input (MOS) were compared with those produced using the climatic Ensemble Streamflow Prediction (ESP) technique. MOS-based streamflow forecasts showed increased skill in the snowmelt-dominated river basins, where daily variations in streamflow are strongly forced by temperature. In contrast, the skill of MOS forecasts in the rainfall-dominated basin (the Alapaha River) were equivalent to the skill of the ESP forecasts. Further improvements in streamflow forecasts require more accurate local-scale forecasts of precipitation and temperature, more accurate specification of basin initial conditions, and more accurate model simulations of streamflow. 

Publication Year 2004
Title Use of medium-range numerical weather prediction model output to produce forecasts of streamflow
DOI 10.1175/1525-7541(2004)005<0015:UOMNWP>2.0.CO;2
Authors M.P. Clark, L.E. Hay
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Hydrometeorology
Index ID 70027098
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse