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Troy R. Blandford
Karen S. Humes
Brian J. Harshburger
Brandon C. Moore
Von P. Walden
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Hengchun Ye


To accurately estimate near-surface (2 m) air temperatures in a mountainous region for hydrologic prediction models and other investigations of environmental processes, the authors evaluated daily and seasonal variations (with the consideration of different weather types) of surface air temperature lapse rates at a spatial scale of 10 000 km2 in south-central Idaho. Near-surface air temperature data (T max, T min, and T avg) from 14 meteorological stations were used to compute daily lapse rates from January 1989 to December 2004 for a medium-elevation study area in south-central Idaho. Daily lapse rates were grouped by month, synoptic weather type, and a combination of both (seasonal–synoptic). Daily air temperature lapse rates show high variability at both daily and seasonal time scales. Daily T max lapse rates show a distinct seasonal trend, with steeper lapse rates (greater decrease in temperature with height) occurring in summer and shallower rates (lesser decrease in temperature with height) occurring in winter. Daily T min and T avg lapse rates are more variable and tend to be steepest in spring and shallowest in midsummer. Different synoptic weather types also influence lapse rates, although differences are tenuous. In general, warmer air masses tend to be associated with steeper lapse rates for maximum temperature, and drier air masses have shallower lapse rates for minimum temperature. The largest diurnal range is produced by dry tropical conditions (clear skies, high solar input). Cross-validation results indicate that the commonly used environmental lapse rate [typically assumed to be −0.65°C (100 m)−1] is solely applicable to maximum temperature and often grossly overestimates T min and T avg lapse rates. Regional lapse rates perform better than the environmental lapse rate for T min and T avg, although for some months rates can be predicted more accurately by using monthly lapse rates. Lapse rates computed for different months, synoptic types, and seasonal–synoptic categories all perform similarly. Therefore, the use of monthly lapse rates is recommended as a practical combination of effective performance and ease of implementation.

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