Articles | Volume 15, issue 6
Research article
10 Jun 2011
Research article |  | 10 Jun 2011

WRF simulation of a precipitation event over the Tibetan Plateau, China – an assessment using remote sensing and ground observations

F. Maussion, D. Scherer, R. Finkelnburg, J. Richters, W. Yang, and T. Yao

Abstract. Meteorological observations over the Tibetan Plateau (TiP) are scarce, and precipitation estimations over this remote region are difficult. The constantly improving capabilities of numerical weather prediction (NWP) models offer the opportunity to reduce this problem by providing precipitation fields and other meteorological variables of high spatial and temporal resolution. Longer time periods of years to decades can be simulated by NWP models by successive model runs of shorter periods, which can be described by the term "regional atmospheric reanalysis". In this paper, we assess the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) models capacity in retrieving rain- and snowfall on the TiP in such a configuration using a nested approach: the simulations are conducted with three nested domains at spatial resolutions of 30, 10, and 2 km. A validation study is carried out for a one-month period with a special focus on one-week (22–28 October 2008), during which strong rain- and snowfall was observed on the TiP. The output of the model in each resolution is compared to the Tropical Rainfall Measuring Mission (TRMM) data set for precipitation and to the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) data set for snow extent. TRMM and WRF data are then compared to weather-station measurements. Our results suggest an overall improvement from WRF over TRMM with respect to weather-station measurements. Various configurations of the model with different nesting and forcing strategies, as well as physical parameterisation schemes are compared to propose a suitable design for a regional atmospheric reanalysis over the TiP. The WRF model showed good accuracy in simulating snow- and rainfall on the TiP for a one-month simulation period. Our study reveals that there is nothing like an optimal model strategy applicable for the high-altitude TiP, its fringing high-mountain areas of extremely complex topography and the low-altitude land and sea regions from which much of the precipitation on the TiP is originating. The choice of the physical parameterisation scheme will thus be always a compromise depending on the specific purpose of a model simulation. Our study demonstrates the high importance of orographic precipitation, but the problem of the orographic bias remains unsolved since reliable observational data are still missing. The results are relevant for anyone interested in carrying out a regional atmospheric reanalysis. Many hydrological analyses and applications like rainfall-runoff modelling or the analysis of flood events require precipitation rates at daily or even hourly intervals. Thus, our study offers a process-oriented alternative for retrieving precipitation fields of high spatio-temporal resolution in regions like the TiP, where other data sources are limited.