The Operational Eta Model Precipitation and Surface Hydrologic Cycle of the Columbia and Colorado Basins

Yan Luo; Berbery, Ernesto H.; Mitchell, Kenneth E.
August 2005
Journal of Hydrometeorology;Aug2005, Vol. 6 Issue 4, p341
Academic Journal
The surface hydrology of the United States’ western basins is investigated using the National Centers for Environmental Prediction operational Eta Model forecasts. During recent years the model has been subject to changes and upgrades that positively affected its performance. These effects on the surface hydrologic cycle are discussed by analyzing the period June 1995–May 2003. Prior to the model assessment, three gauge-based precipitation analyses that are potential sources of model validation are appraised. A fairly large disparity between the gridded precipitation analyses is found in the long-term area averages over the Columbia basin (∼23% difference) and over the Colorado basin (∼12% difference). These discrepancies are due to the type of analysis scheme employed and whether an orographic correction was applied. The basin-averaged Eta Model precipitation forecasts correlate well with the observations at monthly time scales and, after 1999, show a small bias. Over the Columbia basin, the model precipitation bias is typically positive. This bias is significantly smaller with respect to orographically corrected precipitation analyses, indicating that the model’s large-scale precipitation processes respond reasonably well to orographic effects, though manifesting a higher bias during the cool season. Over the Colorado basin, the model precipitation bias is typically negative, and notably more so with respect to 1) the orographically corrected precipitation analyses and 2) the warm season, indicating shortfalls in the convection scheme over arid high mountains. The mean fields of the hydrological variables in the Eta Model are in qualitative agreement with those from the Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC) macroscale hydrologic model at regional-to-large scales. As expected, the largest differences are found near mountains and the western coastline. While the mean fields of precipitation, evaporation, runoff, and normalized soil moisture are in general agreement, important differences arise in their mean annual cycle over the two basins: snowmelt in the Eta Model precedes that of VIC by 2 months, and this phase shift is also reflected in the other variables. In the last 3–4 yr of the study period, notable improvements are evident in the quality of the model’s precipitation forecast and in the reduction of the residual term of the surface water balance, suggesting that at least similar (or better) quality will be found in studies based on NCEP’s recently completed Eta Model–based North American regional reanalysis.


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