Articles | Volume 18, issue 1
Research article
21 Jan 2014
Research article |  | 21 Jan 2014

Hydrological appraisal of operational weather radar rainfall estimates in the context of different modelling structures

D. Zhu, Y. Xuan, and I. Cluckie

Abstract. Radar rainfall estimates have become increasingly available for hydrological modellers over recent years, especially for flood forecasting and warning over poorly gauged catchments. However, the impact of using radar rainfall as compared with conventional raingauge inputs, with respect to various hydrological model structures, remains unclear and yet to be addressed. In the study presented by this paper, we analysed the flow simulations of the upper Medway catchment of southeast England using the UK NIMROD radar rainfall estimates, using three hydrological models based upon three very different structures (e.g. a physically based distributed MIKE SHE model, a lumped conceptual model PDM and an event-based unit hydrograph model PRTF). We focused on the sensitivity of simulations in relation to the storm types and various rainfall intensities. The uncertainty in radar rainfall estimates, scale effects and extreme rainfall were examined in order to quantify the performance of the radar. We found that radar rainfall estimates were lower than raingauge measurements in high rainfall rates; the resolutions of radar rainfall data had insignificant impact at this catchment scale in the case of evenly distributed rainfall events but was obvious otherwise for high-intensity, localised rainfall events with great spatial heterogeneity. As to hydrological model performance, the distributed model had consistent reliable and good performance on peak simulation with all the rainfall types tested in this study.