Articles | Volume 16, issue 8
Research article
 | Highlight paper
17 Aug 2012
Research article | Highlight paper |  | 17 Aug 2012

Value of medium range weather forecasts in the improvement of seasonal hydrologic prediction skill

S. Shukla, N. Voisin, and D. P. Lettenmaier

Abstract. We investigated the contribution of medium range weather forecasts with lead times of up to 14 days to seasonal hydrologic prediction skill over the conterminous United States (CONUS). Three different Ensemble Streamflow Prediction (ESP) based experiments were performed for the period 1980–2003 using the Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC) hydrology model to generate forecasts of monthly runoff and soil moisture (SM) at lead-1 (first month of the forecast period) to lead-3. The first experiment (ESP) used a resampling from the retrospective period 1980–2003 and represented full climatological uncertainty for the entire forecast period. In the second and third experiments, the first 14 days of each ESP ensemble member were replaced by either observations (perfect 14-day forecast) or by a deterministic 14-day weather forecast. We used Spearman rank correlations of forecasts and observations as the forecast skill score. We estimated the potential and actual improvement in baseline skill as the difference between the skill of experiments 2 and 3 relative to ESP, respectively. We found that useful runoff and SM forecast skill at lead-1 to -3 months can be obtained by exploiting medium range weather forecast skill in conjunction with the skill derived by the knowledge of initial hydrologic conditions. Potential improvement in baseline skill by using medium range weather forecasts for runoff [SM] forecasts generally varies from 0 to 0.8 [0 to 0.5] as measured by differences in correlations, with actual improvement generally from 0 to 0.8 of the potential improvement. With some exceptions, most of the improvement in runoff is for lead-1 forecasts, although some improvement in SM was achieved at lead-2.