Articles | Volume 21, issue 11
Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 21, 5747–5762, 2017

Special issue: Sub-seasonal to seasonal hydrological forecasting

Hydrol. Earth Syst. Sci., 21, 5747–5762, 2017

Research article 22 Nov 2017

Research article | 22 Nov 2017

Verification of ECMWF System 4 for seasonal hydrological forecasting in a northern climate

Rachel Bazile1,*, Marie-Amélie Boucher1, Luc Perreault2, and Robert Leconte1 Rachel Bazile et al.
  • 1Département de génie civil, Université de Sherbrooke, 2500 Boul. de l'Université, Sherbrooke, Québec, J1R 2R2, Canada
  • 2Institut de Recherche d'Hydro-Québec (IREQ), 1800 boul. Lionel-Boulet, Varennes, Québec, J3X 1S1, Canada
  • * Invited contribution by Rachel Bazile, recipient of the EGU Hydrological Sciences Outstanding Student Poster and PICO Award 2017.

Abstract. Hydropower production requires optimal dam and reservoir management to prevent flooding damage and avoid operation losses. In a northern climate, where spring freshet constitutes the main inflow volume, seasonal forecasts can help to establish a yearly strategy. Long-term hydrological forecasts often rely on past observations of streamflow or meteorological data. Another alternative is to use ensemble meteorological forecasts produced by climate models. In this paper, those produced by the ECMWF (European Centre for Medium-Range Forecast) System 4 are examined and bias is characterized. Bias correction, through the linear scaling method, improves the performance of the raw ensemble meteorological forecasts in terms of continuous ranked probability score (CRPS). Then, three seasonal ensemble hydrological forecasting systems are compared: (1) the climatology of simulated streamflow, (2) the ensemble hydrological forecasts based on climatology (ESP) and (3) the hydrological forecasts based on bias-corrected ensemble meteorological forecasts from System 4 (corr-DSP). Simulated streamflow computed using observed meteorological data is used as benchmark. Accounting for initial conditions is valuable even for long-term forecasts. ESP and corr-DSP both outperform the climatology of simulated streamflow for lead times from 1 to 5 months depending on the season and watershed. Integrating information about future meteorological conditions also improves monthly volume forecasts. For the 1-month lead time, a gain exists for almost all watersheds during winter, summer and fall. However, volume forecasts performance for spring varies from one watershed to another. For most of them, the performance is close to the performance of ESP. For longer lead times, the CRPS skill score is mostly in favour of ESP, even if for many watersheds, ESP and corr-DSP have comparable skill. Corr-DSP appears quite reliable but, in some cases, under-dispersion or bias is observed. A more complex bias-correction method should be further investigated to remedy this weakness and take more advantage of the ensemble forecasts produced by the climate model. Overall, in this study, bias-corrected ensemble meteorological forecasts appear to be an interesting source of information for hydrological forecasting for lead times up to 1 month. They could also complement ESP for longer lead times.

Short summary
Meteorological forecasting agencies constantly work on pushing the limit of predictability farther in time. However, some end users need proof that climate model outputs are ready to be implemented operationally. We show that bias correction is crucial for the use of ECMWF System4 forecasts for the studied area and there is a potential for the use of 1-month-ahead forecasts. Beyond this, forecast performance is equivalent to using past climatology series as inputs to the hydrological model.