The Accuracy of United States Precipitation Data

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Precipitation measurements in the United States (as well as all other countries) are adversely affected by the gauge undercatch bias of point precipitation measurements. When these measurements are used to obtain areal averages, particularly in mountainous terrain, additional biases may be introduced because most stations are at lower elevations in exposed sites.

Gauge measurements tend to be underestimates of the true precipitation, largely because of wind-induced turbulence at the gauge orifice and wetting losses on the internal walls of the gauge. These are not trivial as monthly estimates of this bias often vary from 5% to 40%. Biases are larger in winter than in summer and increase to the north in the United States due largely to the deleterious effect of the wind on snowfall.

Simple spatial averaging of data from existing networks does not provide an accurate evaluation of the area-mean precipitation over mountainous terrain (e.g., over much of the western United States) since most stations are located at low elevations. This tends to underestimate area averages since, in mountainous terrain, precipitation generally increases with elevation.

Temporal precipitation trends for the United States, as well as seasonal and annual averages, are presented. Estimates of unbiased (or less biased) precipitation over the northern Great Plains provide a regional analysis.

*National Climatic Data Center, Asheville, North Carolina

@University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma

+Permanent affiliation: State Hydrological Institute, St. Petersburg, Russia

Corresponding author address: Pavel Ya. Groisman, National Climatic Data Center, Federal Building, 37 Battery Park Avenue, Asheville, NC 28801.

Precipitation measurements in the United States (as well as all other countries) are adversely affected by the gauge undercatch bias of point precipitation measurements. When these measurements are used to obtain areal averages, particularly in mountainous terrain, additional biases may be introduced because most stations are at lower elevations in exposed sites.

Gauge measurements tend to be underestimates of the true precipitation, largely because of wind-induced turbulence at the gauge orifice and wetting losses on the internal walls of the gauge. These are not trivial as monthly estimates of this bias often vary from 5% to 40%. Biases are larger in winter than in summer and increase to the north in the United States due largely to the deleterious effect of the wind on snowfall.

Simple spatial averaging of data from existing networks does not provide an accurate evaluation of the area-mean precipitation over mountainous terrain (e.g., over much of the western United States) since most stations are located at low elevations. This tends to underestimate area averages since, in mountainous terrain, precipitation generally increases with elevation.

Temporal precipitation trends for the United States, as well as seasonal and annual averages, are presented. Estimates of unbiased (or less biased) precipitation over the northern Great Plains provide a regional analysis.

*National Climatic Data Center, Asheville, North Carolina

@University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma

+Permanent affiliation: State Hydrological Institute, St. Petersburg, Russia

Corresponding author address: Pavel Ya. Groisman, National Climatic Data Center, Federal Building, 37 Battery Park Avenue, Asheville, NC 28801.
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