Articles | Volume 20, issue 10
Research article
10 Oct 2016
Research article |  | 10 Oct 2016

Optimising seasonal streamflow forecast lead time for operational decision making in Australia

Andrew Schepen, Tongtiegang Zhao, Q. J. Wang, Senlin Zhou, and Paul Feikema

Abstract. Statistical seasonal forecasts of 3-month streamflow totals are released in Australia by the Bureau of Meteorology and updated on a monthly basis. The forecasts are often released in the second week of the forecast period, due to the onerous forecast production process. The current service relies on models built using data for complete calendar months, meaning the forecast production process cannot begin until the first day of the forecast period. Somehow, the bureau needs to transition to a service that provides forecasts before the beginning of the forecast period; timelier forecast release will become critical as sub-seasonal (monthly) forecasts are developed. Increasing the forecast lead time to one month ahead is not considered a viable option for Australian catchments that typically lack any predictability associated with snowmelt. The bureau's forecasts are built around Bayesian joint probability models that have antecedent streamflow, rainfall and climate indices as predictors. In this study, we adapt the modelling approach so that forecasts have any number of days of lead time. Daily streamflow and sea surface temperatures are used to develop predictors based on 28-day sliding windows. Forecasts are produced for 23 forecast locations with 0–14- and 21-day lead time. The forecasts are assessed in terms of continuous ranked probability score (CRPS) skill score and reliability metrics. CRPS skill scores, on average, reduce monotonically with increase in days of lead time, although both positive and negative differences are observed. Considering only skilful forecast locations, CRPS skill scores at 7-day lead time are reduced on average by 4 percentage points, with differences largely contained within +5 to −15 percentage points. A flexible forecasting system that allows for any number of days of lead time could benefit Australian seasonal streamflow forecast users by allowing more time for forecasts to be disseminated, comprehended and made use of prior to the commencement of a forecast season. The system would allow for forecasts to be updated if necessary.

Short summary
Australian seasonal streamflow forecasts are issued by the Bureau of Meteorology with up to two weeks' delay. Timelier forecast release will enhance forecast value and enable sub-seasonal forecasting. The bureau's forecasting approach is modified to allow timelier forecast release, and changes in reliability and skill are quantified. The results are combined with insights into the forecast production process to recommend a more flexible forecasting system to better meet the needs of users.