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ERA5-Derived Precipitation: Insights from Historical Rainfall Networks in Southern Africa

Deon TerblancheaInstitute at Brown for Environment and Society, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island

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Amanda LynchaInstitute at Brown for Environment and Society, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island
bDepartment of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island

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Zihan ChenaInstitute at Brown for Environment and Society, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island

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Scott SinclaircInstitute of Environmental Engineering, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland

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Abstract

Patterns of freshwater availability—its variability and distribution—are already shifting as a function of global climate change and climate variability. High-resolution global gridded reanalysis products present an important tool to understand the already observed changes and thereby improve future scenarios as the climate evolves. A historical 100-yr-long district rainfall dataset and a unique set of highly detailed rainfall data from the highveld of South Africa spanning a 10-yr period provide an opportunity to independently evaluate the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts ERA5 reanalysis product. Evaluation is challenged by the episodic nature of significant rainfall events of southern Africa as well as differences in spatial and temporal resolution between model output and surface precipitation data. Here we present a convergent methodology spanning annual to event time scales and regional to gauge-level spatial scales to identify the characteristics of systematic biases in variability and amount of rain as well as timing of events. We find that ERA5 is consistently wetter than observed in ways that affect the timing of individual events while performing well on metrics associated with large-scale trends and seasonal variability. Errors are associated with both stratiform and convective rainfall types, but the timing of onset of convective rainfall is a challenge that is critical in this summer-rainfall-dominated region.

Significance Statement

High-resolution gridded datasets are invaluable tools for gaining improved understanding of historical rainfall variations under the influence of climate change. In addition, these datasets provide consistent information for purposes such as water resources management. Quantification of dataset biases provides important guidance for robust decision-making as well as for the development of future climate scenarios. However, rainfall is an especially challenging quantity to assess. With the increasing incidence of drought and flood, methods that independently validate this high-resolution gridded data are needed to ensure high-quality knowledge support. This study demonstrates an approach using convergent streams of evidence to assess the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts gridded rainfall dataset with the purpose of better understanding the evolving characteristics of rainfall in southern Africa.

© 2022 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Terblanche’s current affiliation: Retired.

Corresponding author: Deon Terblanche, deterblanche@gmail.com

Abstract

Patterns of freshwater availability—its variability and distribution—are already shifting as a function of global climate change and climate variability. High-resolution global gridded reanalysis products present an important tool to understand the already observed changes and thereby improve future scenarios as the climate evolves. A historical 100-yr-long district rainfall dataset and a unique set of highly detailed rainfall data from the highveld of South Africa spanning a 10-yr period provide an opportunity to independently evaluate the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts ERA5 reanalysis product. Evaluation is challenged by the episodic nature of significant rainfall events of southern Africa as well as differences in spatial and temporal resolution between model output and surface precipitation data. Here we present a convergent methodology spanning annual to event time scales and regional to gauge-level spatial scales to identify the characteristics of systematic biases in variability and amount of rain as well as timing of events. We find that ERA5 is consistently wetter than observed in ways that affect the timing of individual events while performing well on metrics associated with large-scale trends and seasonal variability. Errors are associated with both stratiform and convective rainfall types, but the timing of onset of convective rainfall is a challenge that is critical in this summer-rainfall-dominated region.

Significance Statement

High-resolution gridded datasets are invaluable tools for gaining improved understanding of historical rainfall variations under the influence of climate change. In addition, these datasets provide consistent information for purposes such as water resources management. Quantification of dataset biases provides important guidance for robust decision-making as well as for the development of future climate scenarios. However, rainfall is an especially challenging quantity to assess. With the increasing incidence of drought and flood, methods that independently validate this high-resolution gridded data are needed to ensure high-quality knowledge support. This study demonstrates an approach using convergent streams of evidence to assess the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts gridded rainfall dataset with the purpose of better understanding the evolving characteristics of rainfall in southern Africa.

© 2022 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Terblanche’s current affiliation: Retired.

Corresponding author: Deon Terblanche, deterblanche@gmail.com

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