Short-range ensemble forecasting of quantitative precipitation

Jun Du, Steven L. Mullen, Frederick Sanders

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

157 Scopus citations


The impact of initial condition uncertainty (ICU) on quantitative precipitation forecasts (QPFs) is examined for a case of explosive cyclogenesis that occurred over the contiguous United States and produced widespread, substantial rainfall. The Pennsylvania State University-National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) Mesoscale Model Version 4 (MM4), a limited-area model, is run at 80-km horizontal resolution and 15 layers to produce a 25-member, 36-h forecast ensemble. Lateral boundary conditions for MM4 are provided by ensemble forecasts from a global spectral model, the NCAR Community Climate Model Version I (CCMI). The initial perturbations of the ensemble members possess a magnitude and spatial decomposition that closely match estimates of global analysis error, but they are not dynamically conditioned. Results for the 80-km ensemble forecast are compared to forecasts from the then operational Nested Grid Model (NGM), a single 40-km/15-layer MM4 forecast, a single 80-km/29-layer MM4 forecast, and a second 25-member MM4 ensemble based on a different cumulus parameterization and slightly different unperturbed initial conditions. Large sensitivity to ICU marks ensemble QPF. Extrema in 6-h accumulations at individual grid points vary by as much as 3.00′. Ensemble averaging reduces the root-mean-square error (rmse) for QPF. Nearly 90% of the improvement is obtainable using ensemble sizes as small as 8-10. Ensemble averaging can adversely affect the bias and equitable threat scores, however, because of its smoothing nature. Probabilistic forecasts for five mutually exclusive, completely exhaustive categories are found to be skillful relative to a climatological forecast. Ensemble sizes of approximately 10 can account for 90% of improvement in categorical forecasts relative to that for the average of individual forecasts. The improvements due to short-range ensemble forecasting (SREF) techniques exceed any due to doubling the resolution, and the error growth due to ICU greatly exceeds that due to different resolutions. If the authors' results are representative, they indicate that SREF can now provide useful QPF guidance and increase the accuracy of QPF when used with current analysis-forecast systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2427-2459
Number of pages33
JournalMonthly Weather Review
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1997

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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