Articles | Volume 17, issue 2
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 17, 721–733, 2013
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 17, 721–733, 2013

Research article 20 Feb 2013

Research article | 20 Feb 2013

Role of climate forecasts and initial conditions in developing streamflow and soil moisture forecasts in a rainfall–runoff regime

T. Sinha and A. Sankarasubramanian T. Sinha and A. Sankarasubramanian
  • Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC, USA

Abstract. Skillful seasonal streamflow forecasts obtained from climate and land surface conditions could significantly improve water and energy management. Since climate forecasts are updated on a monthly basis, we evaluate the potential in developing operational monthly streamflow forecasts on a continuous basis throughout the year. Further, basins in the rainfall–runoff regime critically depend on the forecasted precipitation in the upcoming months as opposed to snowmelt regimes where initial hydrological conditions (IHC) play a critical role. The goal of this study is to quantify the role of updated monthly precipitation forecasts and IHC in forecasting 6-month lead monthly streamflow and soil moisture for a rainfall–runoff mechanism dominated basin – Apalachicola River at Chattahoochee, FL. The Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC) land surface model is implemented with two forcings: (a) updated monthly precipitation forecasts from ECHAM4.5 Atmospheric General Circulation Model (AGCM) forced with sea surface temperature forecasts and (b) daily climatological ensembles. The difference in skill between the above two quantifies the improvements that could be attainable using the AGCM forecasts. Monthly retrospective streamflow forecasts are developed from 1981 to 2010 and streamflow forecasts estimated from the VIC model are also compared with those predicted by using the principal component regression (PCR) model. The mean square error (MSE) in predicting monthly streamflows, using the VIC model, are compared with the MSE of streamflow climatology under ENSO (El Niño Southern Oscilation) conditions as well as under normal years. Results indicate that VIC forecasts obtained using ECHAM4.5 are significantly better than VIC forecasts obtained using climatological ensembles and PCR models over 2–6 month lead time during winter and spring seasons in capturing streamflow variability and reduced mean square errors. However, at 1-month lead time, streamflow utilizing the climatological forcing scheme outperformed ECHAM4.5 based streamflow forecasts during winter and spring, indicating a dominant role of IHCs up to a 1-month lead time. During ENSO years, streamflow forecasts exhibit better skill even up to a six-month lead time. Comparisons of the seasonal soil moisture forecasts, developed using ECHAM4.5 forcings, with seasonal streamflows also show significant skill, up to a 6-month lead time, in the four seasons.