Natural fluctuations in the atmosphere–ocean system related to the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) induce climate variability over many parts of the world that is potentially predictable with lead times from seasons to decades. This study examines the potential of using a model nesting approach to provide seasonal climate and streamflow forecasts suitable for water resources management. Two ensembles of perpetual January simulations were performed with a regional climate model driven by a general circulation model (GCM), using observed climatological sea surface temperature (SST) and the mean SST of the warm ENSO years between 1950 and 1994. The climate simulations were then used to drive a macroscale hydrology model to simulate streamflow. The differences between the two ensembles of simulations are defined as the warm ENSO signals.

The simulated hydroclimate signals were compared with observations. The analyses focus on the Columbia River basin in the Pacific Northwest. Results show that the global and regional models simulated a warming over the Pacific Northwest that is quite close to the observations. The models also correctly captured the strong wet signal over California and the weak dry signal over the Pacific Northwest during warm ENSO years. The regional climate model consistently performed better than the GCM in simulating the spatial distribution of regional climate and climate signals. When the climate simulations were used to drive a macroscale hydrology model at the Columbia River basin, the simulated streamflow signal resembles that derived from hydrological simulations driven by observed climate. The streamflow simulations were considerably improved when a simple bias correction scheme was applied to the climate simulations. The coupled regional climate and macroscale hydrologic simulations demonstrate the prospect for generating and utilizing seasonal climate forecasts for managing reservoirs.

This content is only available as a PDF.


*Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, Washington,

+Department of Civil Engineering, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington.

#Climate Modeling Branch, NOAA/NCEP/EMC, Washington, D.C.