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Mark Smalley, Tristan L'Ecuyer, Matthew Lebsock, and John Haynes


Because of its extensive quality control procedures and uniform space–time grid, the NCEP Stage IV merged Weather Surveillance Radar-1988 Doppler (WSR-88D) radar and surface rain gauge dataset is often considered to be the best long-term gridded dataset of precipitation observations covering the contiguous United States. Stage IV accumulations are employed in a variety of applications, and while the WSR-88D systems are well suited for observing heavy rain events that are likely to affect flooding, limitations in surface radar and gauge measurements can result in missed precipitation, especially near topography and in the western United States. This paper compares hourly Stage IV observations of precipitation occurrence to collocated observations from the 94-GHz CloudSat Cloud Profiling Radar, which provides excellent sensitivity to light and frozen precipitation. Statistics from 4 yr of comparisons show that the CloudSat observes precipitation considerably more frequently than the Stage IV dataset, especially in northern states where frozen precipitation is prevalent in the cold season. The skill of Stage IV for precipitation detection is found to decline rapidly when the near-surface air temperature falls below 0°C. As a result, agreement between Stage IV and CloudSat tends to be best in the southeast, where radar coverage is good and moderate-to-heavy liquid precipitation dominates. Stage IV and CloudSat precipitation detection characteristics are documented for each of the individual river forecast centers that contribute to the Stage IV dataset to provide guidance regarding potential sampling biases that may impact hydrologic applications.

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Mark Smalley, Pierre-Emmanuel Kirstetter, and Tristan L’Ecuyer


High temporal and spatial resolution observations of precipitation occurrence from the NEXRAD-based Multi-Radar Multi-Sensor (MRMS) system are compared to matched observations from CloudSat for 3 years over the contiguous United States (CONUS). Across the CONUS, precipitation is generally reported more frequently by CloudSat (7.8%) than by MRMS (6.3%), with dependence on factors such as the NEXRAD beam height, the near-surface air temperature, and the surface elevation. There is general agreement between ground-based and satellite-derived precipitation events over flat surfaces, especially in widespread precipitation events and when the NEXRAD beam heights are low. Within 100 km of the nearest NEXRAD site, MRMS reports a precipitation frequency of 7.54% while CloudSat reports 7.38%. However, further inspection reveals offsetting biases between the products, where CloudSat reports more snow and MRMS reports more rain. The magnitudes of these discrepancies correlate with elevation, but they are observed in both the complex terrain of the Rocky Mountains and the relatively flat midwestern areas of the CONUS. The findings advocate for caution when using MRMS frequency and accumulations in complex terrain, when temperatures are below freezing, and at ranges greater than 100 km. A multiresolution analysis shows that no more than 1.88% of CloudSat pixels over flat terrain are incorrectly identified as nonprecipitating as a result of shallow showers residing the CloudSat clutter-filled blind zone when near-surface air temperatures are above 15°C.

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