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Peter B. Gibson, Duane E. Waliser, Huikyo Lee, Baijun Tian, and Elias Massoud

Abstract

Climate model evaluation is complicated by the presence of observational uncertainty. In this study we analyze daily precipitation indices and compare multiple gridded observational and reanalysis products with regional climate models (RCMs) from the North American component of the Coordinated Regional Climate Downscaling Experiment (NA-CORDEX) multimodel ensemble. In the context of model evaluation, observational product differences across the contiguous United States (CONUS) are also deemed nontrivial for some indices, especially for annual counts of consecutive wet days and for heavy precipitation indices. Multidimensional scaling (MDS) is used to directly include this observational spread into the model evaluation procedure, enabling visualization and interpretation of model differences relative to a “cloud” of observational uncertainty. Applying MDS to the evaluation of NA-CORDEX RCMs reveals situations of added value from dynamical downscaling, situations of degraded performance from dynamical downscaling, and the sensitivity of model performance to model resolution. On precipitation days, higher-resolution RCMs typically simulate higher mean and extreme precipitation rates than their lower-resolution pairs, sometimes improving model fidelity with observations. These results document the model spread and biases in daily precipitation extremes across the full NA-CORDEX model ensemble. The often-large divergence between in situ observations, satellite data, and reanalysis, shown here for CONUS, is especially relevant for data-sparse regions of the globe where satellite and reanalysis products are extensively relied upon. This highlights the need to carefully consider multiple observational products when evaluating climate models.

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