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Ronald D. Leeper, Jared Rennie, and Michael A. Palecki

Abstract

The U.S. Cooperative Observer Program (COOP) network was formed in the early 1890s to provide daily observations of temperature and precipitation. However, manual observations from naturally aspirated temperature sensors and unshielded precipitation gauges often led to uncertainties in atmospheric measurements. Advancements in observational technology (ventilated temperature sensors, well-shielded precipitation gauges) and measurement techniques (automation and redundant sensors), which improve observation quality, were adopted by NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) into the establishment of the U.S. Climate Reference Network (USCRN). USCRN was designed to provide high-quality and continuous observations to monitor long-term temperature and precipitation trends, and to provide an independent reference to compare to other networks. The purpose of this study is to evaluate how diverse technological and operational choices between the USCRN and COOP programs impact temperature and precipitation observations. Naturally aspirated COOP sensors generally had warmer (+0.48°C) daily maximum and cooler (−0.36°C) minimum temperatures than USCRN, with considerable variability among stations. For precipitation, COOP reported slightly more precipitation overall (1.5%) with network differences varying seasonally. COOP gauges were sensitive to wind biases (no shielding), which are enhanced over winter when COOP observed (10.7%) less precipitation than USCRN. Conversely, wetting factor and gauge evaporation, which dominate in summer, were sources of bias for USCRN, leading to wetter COOP observations over warmer months. Inconsistencies in COOP observations (e.g., multiday observations, time shifts, recording errors) complicated network comparisons and led to unique bias profiles that evolved over time with changes in instrumentation and primary observer.

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Ronald D. Leeper, Michael A. Palecki, and Egg Davis

Abstract

The U.S. Climate Reference Network (USCRN) monitors precipitation using a well-shielded Geonor T-200B gauge. To ensure the quality and continuity of the data record, the USCRN adopted an innovative approach to monitor precipitation using redundant technology: three vibrating-wire load sensors measuring the liquid depth of a weighing-bucket gauge. In addition to detecting and flagging suboptimally operating sensors, quality assurance (QA) approaches also combine the redundant observations into a precipitation measurement. As an early adopter of this technology, USCRN has pioneered an effort to develop QA strategies for such precipitation systems.

The initial USCRN approach to calculating precipitation from redundant depth observations, pairwise calculation (pairCalc), was found to be sensitive to sensor noise and gauge evaporation. These findings led to the development of a new approach to calculating precipitation that minimized these nonprecipitation impacts using a weighted average calculation (wavgCalc). The two calculation approaches were evaluated using station data and simulated precipitation scenarios with a known signal. The new QA system had consistently lower measures of error for simulated precipitation events. Improved handling of sensor noise and gauge evaporation led to increases in network total precipitation of 1.6% on average. These results indicate the new calculation system will improve the quality of USCRN precipitation measurements, making them a more reliable reference dataset with the capacity to monitor the nation’s precipitation trends (mean and extremes). In addition, this study provides valuable insight into the development and evaluation of QA systems, particularly for networks adopting redundant approaches to monitoring precipitation.

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Ronald D. Leeper, Jesse E. Bell, Chanté Vines, and Michael Palecki

Abstract

Accurate and timely information on soil moisture conditions is an important component to effectively prepare for the damaging aspects of hydrological extremes. The combination of sparsely dense in situ networks and shallow observation depths of remotely sensed soil moisture conditions often force local and regional decision-makers to rely on numerical methods when assessing the current soil state. In this study, soil moisture from a commonly used, high-resolution reanalysis dataset is compared to observations from the U.S. Climate Reference Network (USCRN). The purpose of this study is to evaluate how well the North American Regional Reanalysis (NARR) captured the evolution, intensity, and spatial extent of the 2012 drought using both raw volumetric values and standardized anomalies of soil moisture. Comparisons revealed that despite a dry precipitation bias of 22% nationally, NARR had predominantly wetter 5-cm volumetric soil conditions over the growing season (April–September) than observed at USCRN sites across the contiguous United States, with differences more pronounced in drier regions. These biases were partially attributed to differences between the dominant soil characteristics assigned to the modeled grid cells and localized soil characteristics at the USCRN stations. However, NARR was able to successfully capture many aspects of the 2012 drought, including the timing, intensity, and spatial extent when using standardized soil moisture anomalies. Standardizing soil moisture conditions reduced the magnitude of systematic biases between NARR and USCRN in many regions and provided a more robust basis for utilizing modeled soil conditions in assessments of hydrological extremes.

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Ronald D. Leeper, Jesse E. Bell, and Michael A. Palecki

Abstract

The interpretation of in situ or remotely sensed soil moisture data for drought monitoring is challenged by the sensitivity of these observations to local soil characteristics and seasonal precipitation patterns. These challenges can be overcome by standardizing soil moisture observations. Traditional approaches require a lengthy record (usually 30 years) that most soil monitoring networks lack. Sampling techniques that combine hourly measurements over a temporal window have been used in the literature to generate historical references (i.e., climatology) from shorter-term datasets. This sampling approach was validated on select U.S. Department of Agriculture Soil Climate Analysis Network (SCAN) stations using a Monte Carlo analysis, which revealed that shorter-term (5+ years) hourly climatologies were similar to longer-term (10+ year) hourly means. The sampling approach was then applied to soil moisture observations from the U.S. Climate Reference Network (USCRN). The sampling method was used to generate multiple measures of soil moisture (mean and median anomalies, standardized median anomaly by interquantile range, and volumetric) that were converted to percentiles using empirical cumulative distribution functions. Overall, time series of soil moisture percentile were very similar among the differing measures; however, there were times of year at individual stations when soil moisture percentiles could have substantial deviations. The use of soil moisture percentiles and counts of threshold exceedance provided more consistent measures of hydrological conditions than observed soil moisture. These results suggest that hourly soil moisture observations can be reasonably standardized and can provide consistent measures of hydrological conditions across spatial and temporal scales.

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Ronald D. Leeper, John Kochendorfer, Timothy A. Henderson, and Michael A. Palecki

Abstract

A field experiment was performed in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, with four instrumented towers placed over grass at increasing distances (4, 30, 50, 124, and 300 m) from a built-up area. Stations were aligned in such a way to simulate the impact of small-scale encroachment on temperature observations. As expected, temperature observations were warmest for the site closest to the built environment with an average temperature difference of 0.31° and 0.24°C for aspirated and unaspirated sensors, respectively. Mean aspirated temperature differences were greater during the evening (0.47°C) than during the day (0.16°C). This was particularly true for evenings following greater daytime solar insolation (20+ MJ day−1) with surface winds from the direction of the built environment where mean differences exceeded 0.80°C. The impact of the built environment on air temperature diminished with distance with a warm bias only detectable out to tower B′ located 50 m away. The experimental findings were comparable to a known case of urban encroachment at a U.S. Climate Reference Network station in Kingston, Rhode Island. The experimental and operational results both lead to reductions in the diurnal temperature range of ~0.39°C for fan-aspirated sensors. Interestingly, the unaspirated sensor had a larger reduction in diurnal temperature range (DTR) of 0.48°C. These results suggest that small-scale urban encroachment within 50 m of a station can have important impacts on daily temperature extrema (maximum and minimum) with the magnitude of these differences dependent upon prevailing environmental conditions and sensing technology.

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Philip J. Klotzbach, Eric C. J. Oliver, Ronald D. Leeper, and Carl J. Schreck III

Abstract

The winter of 2014/15 brought record snow totals to portions of southeastern New England. Additionally, over 90% of Boston Logan Airport snowfall during the winter fell during phases 7 and 8 of the Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO) index. This motivated the authors to investigate potential connections between intense southeastern New England snowstorms and the MJO in the historical record. It was found that southeastern New England snowfall, measured since the 1930s at several stations in the region, recorded higher than average winter snowfalls when enhanced MJO convection was located over the western Pacific and the Western Hemisphere (phases 7–8). Similarly, snowfall was suppressed when enhanced MJO convection was located over the Maritime Continent (phases 4–5). The MJO also modulates the frequency of nor’easters, which contribute the majority of New England’s snowfall, as measured by reanalysis-derived cyclone tracks. These tracks were more numerous during the same MJO phases that lead to enhanced snowfall, and they were less common during phases with less snowfall.

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Jay H. Lawrimore, David Wuertz, Anna Wilson, Scott Stevens, Matthew Menne, Bryant Korzeniewski, Michael A. Palecki, Ronald D. Leeper, and Thomas Trunk

Abstract

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has operated a network of Fischer & Porter gauges providing hourly and subhourly precipitation observations as part of the U.S. Cooperative Observer Program since the middle of the twentieth century. A transition from punched paper recording to digital recording was completed by NOAA’s National Weather Service in 2013. Subsequently, NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) upgraded its quality assurance and data stewardship processes to accommodate the new digital record, better assure the quality of the data, and improve the timeliness by which hourly precipitation observations are made available to the user community. Automated methods for removing noise, detecting diurnal variations, and identifying malfunctioning gauges are described along with quality control algorithms that are applied on hourly and daily time scales. The quality of the hourly observations during the digital era is verified by comparison with hourly observations from the U.S. Climate Reference Network and summary of the day precipitation totals from the Global Historical Climatology Network dataset.

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Jesse E. Bell, Michael A. Palecki, C. Bruce Baker, William G. Collins, Jay H. Lawrimore, Ronald D. Leeper, Mark E. Hall, John Kochendorfer, Tilden P. Meyers, Tim Wilson, and Howard J. Diamond

Abstract

The U.S. Climate Reference Network (USCRN) is a network of climate-monitoring stations maintained and operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to provide climate-science-quality measurements of air temperature and precipitation. The stations in the network were designed to be extensible to other missions, and the National Integrated Drought Information System program determined that the USCRN could be augmented to provide observations that are more drought relevant. To increase the network’s capability of monitoring soil processes and drought, soil observations were added to USCRN instrumentation. In 2011, the USCRN team completed at each USCRN station in the conterminous United States the installation of triplicate-configuration soil moisture and soil temperature probes at five standards depths (5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 cm) as prescribed by the World Meteorological Organization; in addition, the project included the installation of a relative humidity sensor at each of the stations. Work is also under way to eventually install soil sensors at the expanding USCRN stations in Alaska. USCRN data are stewarded by the NOAA National Climatic Data Center, and instrument engineering and performance studies, installation, and maintenance are performed by the NOAA Atmospheric Turbulence and Diffusion Division. This article provides a technical description of the USCRN soil observations in the context of U.S. soil-climate–measurement efforts and discusses the advantage of the triple-redundancy approach applied by the USCRN.

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Howard J. Diamond, Thomas R. Karl, Michael A. Palecki, C. Bruce Baker, Jesse E. Bell, Ronald D. Leeper, David R. Easterling, Jay H. Lawrimore, Tilden P. Meyers, Michael R. Helfert, Grant Goodge, and Peter W. Thorne

The year 2012 marks a decade of observations undertaken by the U.S. Climate Reference Network (USCRN) under the auspices of NOAA's National Climatic Data Center and Atmospheric Turbulence and Diffusion Division. The network consists of 114 sites across the conterminous 48 states, with additional sites in Alaska and Hawaii. Stations are installed in open (where possible), rural sites very likely to have stable land-cover/use conditions for several decades to come. At each site a suite of meteorological parameters are monitored, including triple redundancy for the primary air temperature and precipitation variables and for soil moisture/temperature. Instrumentation is regularly calibrated to National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) standards and maintained by a staff of expert engineers. This attention to detail in USCRN is intended to ensure the creation of an unimpeachable record of changes in surface climate over the United States for decades to come. Data are made available without restriction for all public, private, and government use. This article describes the rationale for the USCRN, its implementation, and some of the highlights of the first decade of operations. One critical use of these observations is as an independent data source to verify the existing U.S. temperature record derived from networks corrected for nonhomogenous histories. Future directions for the network are also discussed, including the applicability of USCRN approaches for networks monitoring climate at scales from regional to global. Constructive feedback from end users will allow for continued improvement of USCRN in the future and ensure that it continues to meet stakeholder requirements for precise climate measurements.

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