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Dingchen Hou, Kenneth Mitchell, Zoltan Toth, Dag Lohmann, and Helin Wei


Hydrological processes are strongly coupled with atmospheric processes related, for example, to precipitation and temperature, and a coupled atmosphere–land surface system is required for a meaningful hydrological forecast. Since the atmosphere is a chaotic system with limited predictability, ensemble forecasts offer a practical tool to predict the future state of the coupled system in a probabilistic fashion, potentially leading to a more complete and informative hydrologic prediction. As ensemble forecasts with coupled meteorological–hydrological models are operationally running at major numerical weather prediction centers, it is currently possible to produce a gridded streamflow prognosis in the form of a probabilistic forecast based on ensembles. Evaluation and improvement of such products require a comprehensive assessment of both components of the coupled system.

In this article, the atmospheric component of a coupled ensemble forecasting system is evaluated in terms of its ability to provide reasonable forcing to the hydrological component and the effect of the uncertainty represented in the atmospheric ensemble system on the predictability of streamflow as a hydrological variable. The Global Ensemble Forecast System (GEFS) of NCEP is evaluated following a “perfect hydrology” approach, in which its hydrological component, including the Noah land surface model and attached river routing model, is considered free of errors and the initial conditions in the hydrological variables are assumed accurate. The evaluation is performed over the continental United States (CONUS) domain for various sizes of river basins. The results from the experiment suggest that the coupled system is capable of generating useful gridded streamflow forecast when the land surface model and the river routing model can successfully simulate the hydrological processes, and the ensemble strategy significantly improves the forecast. The expected forecast skill increases with increasing size of the river basin. With the current GEFS system, positive skill in short-range (one to three days) predictions can be expected for all significant river basins; for the major rivers with mean streamflow more than 500 m3 s−1, significant skill can be expected from extended-range (the second week) predictions. Possible causes for the loss of skills, including the existence of systematic error and insufficient ensemble spread, are discussed and possible approaches for the improvement of the atmospheric ensemble forecast system are also proposed.

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Dingchen Hou, Mike charles, Yan Luo, Zoltan Toth, Yuejian Zhu, Roman Krzysztofowicz, Ying Lin, Pingping Xie, Dong-Jun Seo, Malaquias Pena, and Bo Cui


Two widely used precipitation analyses are the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) unified global daily gauge analysis and Stage IV analysis based on quantitative precipitation estimate with multisensor observations. The former is based on gauge records with a uniform quality control across the entire domain and thus bears more confidence, but provides only 24-h accumulation at ⅛° resolution. The Stage IV dataset, on the other hand, has higher spatial and temporal resolution, but is subject to different methods of quality control and adjustments by different River Forecasting Centers. This article describes a methodology used to generate a new dataset by adjusting the Stage IV 6-h accumulations based on available joint samples of the two analyses to take advantage of both datasets. A simple linear regression model is applied to the archived historical Stage IV and the CPC datasets after the former is aggregated to the CPC grid and daily accumulation. The aggregated Stage IV analysis is then adjusted based on this linear model and then downscaled back to its original resolution. The new dataset, named Climatology-Calibrated Precipitation Analysis (CCPA), retains the spatial and temporal patterns of the Stage IV analysis while having its long-term average and climate probability distribution closer to that of the CPC analysis. The limitation of the methodology at some locations is mainly associated with heavy to extreme precipitation events, which the Stage IV dataset tends to underestimate. CCPA cannot effectively correct this because of the linear regression model and the relative scarcity of heavy precipitation in the training data sample.

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