**Research article**
02 Sep 2021

**Research article** | 02 Sep 2021

# Bias-correcting input variables enhances forecasting of reference crop evapotranspiration

Qichun Yang, Quan J. Wang, Kirsti Hakala, and Yating Tang

**Qichun Yang et al.**Qichun Yang, Quan J. Wang, Kirsti Hakala, and Yating Tang

- Department of Infrastructure Engineering, The University of Melbourne, Parkville 3010, Australia

- Department of Infrastructure Engineering, The University of Melbourne, Parkville 3010, Australia

**Correspondence**: Qichun Yang (qichun.yang@unimelb.edu.au)

**Correspondence**: Qichun Yang (qichun.yang@unimelb.edu.au)

Received: 02 Feb 2021 – Discussion started: 04 Feb 2021 – Revised: 28 Jul 2021 – Accepted: 05 Aug 2021 – Published: 02 Sep 2021

Reference crop evapotranspiration (ETo) is calculated using a standard formula with temperature, vapor pressure, solar radiation, and wind speed as input variables. ETo forecasts can be produced when forecasts of these input variables from numerical weather prediction (NWP) models are available. As raw ETo forecasts are often subject to systematic errors, statistical calibration is needed for improving forecast quality. The most straightforward and widely used approach is to directly calibrate raw ETo forecasts constructed with the raw forecasts of input variables. However, the predictable signal in ETo forecasts may not be fully implemented by this approach, which does not deal with error propagation from input variables to ETo forecasts. We hypothesize that correcting errors in input variables as a precursor to forecast calibration will lead to more skillful ETo forecasts. To test this hypothesis, we evaluate two calibration strategies that construct raw ETo forecasts with the raw (strategy i) or bias-corrected (strategy ii) input variables in ETo forecast calibration across Australia. Calibrated ETo forecasts based on bias-corrected input variables (strategy ii) demonstrate lower biases, higher correlation coefficients, and higher skills than forecasts produced by the calibration using raw input variables (strategy i). This investigation indicates that improving raw forecasts of input variables could effectively reduce error propagation and enhance ETo forecast calibration. We anticipate that future NWP-based ETo forecasting will benefit from adopting the calibration strategy developed in this study to produce more skillful ETo forecasts.

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As a variable measuring the evaporative demand of the atmosphere, reference crop evapotranspiration (ETo) has been widely used to estimate potential water loss from the land surface to the atmosphere (Hopson and Webster, 2009; Liu et al., 2019; Renard et al., 2010). Quantification of ETo has been increasingly performed to support efficient water use and water management (Mushtaq et al., 2019; Perera et al., 2016). Forecasts of short-term ETo (days to weeks) are highly valuable for real-time decision-making on farming activities and water allocation to competing users (Djaman et al., 2018; Kumar et al., 2012).

A plethora of methods with different statistical assumptions, dependence on observations, and requirements of weather forecasts have been developed to predict future ETo (Bachour et al., 2016; Ballesteros et al., 2016; Karbasi, 2018; Mariito et al., 1993). ETo is affected jointly by temperature, vapor pressure, solar radiation, and wind speed (Bachour et al., 2016; Luo et al., 2014). Prediction models using these weather variables as inputs allow for representations of atmospheric dynamics and often produce reasonable ETo forecasts (Torres et al., 2011). The increasing availability of weather and climate forecasts based on numerical models has opened up new opportunities for ETo forecasting (Cai et al., 2007; Srivastava et al., 2013; Tian and Martinez, 2014; Zhao et al., 2019a). Forecasts of temperature, vapor pressure, solar radiation, and wind speed from numerical weather prediction (NWP) models/general circulation models (GCMs) could be translated into ETo forecasts using the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) ETo equation (Allen et al., 1998; Cai et al., 2007).

Despite the advantages in modeling atmospheric dynamics, flexibility in temporal and spatial scales (Pelosi et al., 2016), and high data availability (Er-Raki et al., 2010), NWP/GCM-based raw ETo forecasts often demonstrate systematic errors (Turco et al., 2017). Limitations in model algorithms, parameterization, and data assimilation often lead to significant errors in raw forecasts of weather variables (Lim and Park, 2019; Vogel et al., 2018). As a result, raw ETo forecasts calculated directly with the raw forecasts of input weather variables (e.g., temperature, vapor pressure, solar radiation, and wind speed) typically demonstrate substantial inconsistencies with observations (Medina and Tian, 2020; Zhao et al., 2019a) and need to be calibrated to improve forecast quality.

Effective calibration aims to correct errors in raw forecasts and provide unbiased, reliable, and skillful calibrated forecasts. Theoretically, two different strategies could be adopted to achieve this goal in the calibration of ETo forecasts. The first strategy is to construct raw ETo forecasts directly with the raw forecasts of the input variables and then calibrate the derived ETo forecasts. This strategy lumps errors from the input variables together in the raw ETo forecasts and corrects the combined errors directly (Tian and Martinez, 2014; Zhao et al., 2019a). This strategy is straightforward and thus has been adopted by most existing calibrations of NWP/GCM-based ETo forecasts. For example, Medina et al. (2018) used a linear regression bias-correction method to calibrate ETo forecasts from three NWP models and achieved significant improvements in forecast quality. Medina and Tian (2020) employed three probabilistic-based calibration methods to calibrate ETo forecasts from multiple NWP models, and generated more skillful and reliable forecasts than using a simple regression bias-correction model. Another probabilistic postprocessing method, the Bayesian joint probability (BJP) model, was adopted to improve the accuracy and skills of GCM-based ETo forecasts across multiple sites in Australia (Zhao et al., 2019a, b).

Alternatively, ETo forecast calibration could start with correcting errors in input variables. Raw forecasts of input variables could be improved first, and raw ETo forecasts could then be constructed with the corrected input variables. After that, the derived raw ETo forecasts could be further improved through calibration. This strategy requires one more step than the one using the raw input variables. With the improved input variables, errors in the resultant raw ETo forecasts could be significantly reduced (Nouri and Homaee, 2018; Perera et al., 2014). However, there is no conclusion on whether improving raw forecasts of input variables will eventually add additional skills to calibrated ETo forecasts (Medina and Tian, 2020).

Which calibration strategy produces more skillful calibrated forecasts is a critical question in NWP-based ETo forecasting, but the answer remains unclear. Since NWP/GCM-based ETo forecasting is increasingly conducted to support water resource management, there is a need to investigate the necessity of correcting raw forecasts of the input variables in ETo forecast calibration.

We hypothesize that reducing errors in input variables as a precursor will enhance ETo forecast calibration and lead to more skillful calibrated forecasts. To test this hypothesis, we compare two calibration strategies that construct raw ETo forecasts based on the raw (strategy i) or bias-corrected (strategy ii) input variables in calibrating ETo forecasts across Australia. This study aims to fill a knowledge gap in NWP-based ETo forecasting and develop a calibration strategy to produce more skillful ETo forecasts.

## 2.1 Reference data and forecasts

In this study, we use the ETo data derived from the Australian Water Availability Project (AWAP)'s gridded data of temperature, vapor pressure, and solar radiation (Jones et al., 2007, 2014), as well as wind speed data developed by Mcvicar et al. (2008), as observations for ETo forecast calibration. Weather forecasts from the Australian Community Climate and Earth System Simulator G2 version (ACCESS-G2) model are extracted as inputs for the calculation of raw ETo forecasts. We modify the spatial resolution of ACCESS-G2 forecasts using bilinear interpolation to match the AWAP data's grid spacing. The 3-hourly ACCESS-G2 forecasts during April 2016–March 2019 are aggregated to the daily scale to match the timeframe of the original site observations used to generate the AWAP data. The ACCESS-G2 weather forecasts have a forecast horizon of 9 d. AWAP ETo during April 1999–March 2019 is used for the training of the calibration model, and data during April 2016–March 2019 are selected for forecast calibration and evaluation.

## 2.2 Calculation of ETo

We calculate ETo forecasts and AWAP ETo using the FAO56 equation (Allen et al., 1998):

where ETo is the reference crop evapotranspiration (mm d^{−1}); Δ is the slope of the vapor pressure curve
(kPa ^{∘}C^{−1}); *R*_{n} is net radiation at the crop
surface (MJ m^{−2} d^{−1});
*G* is soil heat flux density (MJ m^{−2} d^{−1}); *γ* is the psychrometric constant
(kPa ^{∘}C^{−1}); *T* is average air temperature
(^{∘}C); *u*_{2} is the wind speed at the height of
2 m (m s^{−1}); and *e*_{s} and *e*_{a} are saturated and actual vapor pressure
(kPa), respectively.

In constructing raw ETo forecasts, temperature and solar radiation are
readily available from the ACCESS-G2 outputs. To obtain the wind speed
forecasts, we first use the forecasts of zonal (*u*) and meridional (*v*)
components to calculate wind speed forecasts at 10 m, and we then estimate wind
speed at 2 m using the equation recommended by FAO (Allen et al., 1998). In
addition, we use the ACCESS-G2 forecasts of air pressure and specific
humidity to obtain the vapor pressure forecasts.

## 2.3 Calibration of ETo forecasts

The calibration model used in this study is the Seasonally Coherent
Calibration (SCC) model, which is introduced in detail in Sect. 2.3.2. For
the calibration across Australia with a spatial resolution of 0.05^{∘},
we process 281 655 grid cells in total. We apply the SCC model for ETo
forecast calibration to each grid cell and lead time separately.

We conduct four calibrations to evaluate how the two different strategies will affect the calibrated ETo forecasts (Table 1 and Fig. S1). Our recent investigation suggests calibrating ETo anomalies, which are calculated as departures from the climatological mean, could produce more skillful calibrated forecasts than calibrating ETo forecasts directly (Yang et al., 2021b). As a result, in this study, we primarily focus on calibrations based on ETo anomalies (calibrations 1 and 2). The comparison between calibrations 1 and 2 is to investigate whether the bias correction of input variables would further improve ETo forecasts when the calibration is conducted based on ETo anomalies and climatological mean. We also conduct additional calibrations which postprocess ETo forecasts directly (calibrations 3 and 4) to test whether the contribution of improving input variables to ETo forecast calibration, if there is any, will depend on how ETo forecasts are calibrated (based on anomalies vs. based on ETo). Calibrations 3 and 4 will help evaluate the general applicability of strategy ii to enhance NWP/GCM-based ETo forecasting. Key steps of the four calibrations could be found in the schematic diagram introducing how raw ETo forecasts are constructed and how calibrations are conducted (Fig. S1). In the main text, we primarily analyze results from calibrations 1 and 2. Improvements with the adoption of bias correction to input variables in calibrations 3 and 4 are very similar to calibrations 1 and 2 (see the Supplement). To avoid redundancy, we mainly present results from calibrations 3 and 4 in the Supplement.

### 2.3.1 Bias correction of input variables

In ETo forecast calibration employing strategy ii (calibrations 2 and 4), we use a nonparametric quantile mapping method (QUANT) to correct raw forecasts of the input variables. The QUANT method has been widely used in hydrological and climatological investigations to correct bias in raw forecasts (Boe et al., 2007). To use QUANT, we first build up the empirical cumulative density function (CDF) of both raw forecasts and AWAP data for each variable. We then calculate the percentile of each record in raw forecasts in their CDF. Next, these percentiles are used to search values in the corresponding AWAP data, which are then treated as the bias-corrected forecasts.

### 2.3.2 Key steps of ETo forecast calibration using the SCC model

After we construct the raw ETo forecasts, based on either raw (calibrations 1 and 3) or bias-corrected (calibrations 2 and 4) forecasts of the input variables, we employ the SCC model to further calibrate the ETo forecasts. For the calibrations (calibrations 1 and 2) applying SCC to ETo anomalies, the first step is to derive the climatological mean at the daily scale using the 20-year AWAP ETo. Calibrations 3 and 4 skip this step and apply the SCC model to ETo forecasts directly. We use the method developed by Narapusetty et al. (2009) and adopt trigonometric functions and harmonics to simulate the annual cycle of AWAP ETo to derive the climatological mean:

where *y*_{cm}(t) is the climatological mean of AWAP ETo at the
daily scale; *H* is the number of harmonics. We use *H*=4 following Narapusetty
et al. (2009); *a*_{0}, *a*_{j}, and *b*_{j} are
coefficients, estimated through minimizing the mean squared differences
between climatological mean and observations; ${w}_{j}=\mathrm{2}\mathit{\pi}j/P$, and *P* is
the number of days in 1 year.

We then remove the climatological mean from both raw ETo forecasts and AWAP ETo to generate anomalies. We calibrate the derived anomalies of raw ETo forecasts against the anomalies of AWAP ETo using the SCC model. The SCC model is composed of four key components, including (i) a joint probability model to characterize the connection between raw forecasts and observations, (ii) reconstruction of seasonal patterns in raw forecasts based on the long-term observations, (iii) reparameterization to obtain parameters for short-archived raw forecasts, and (iv) generation of calibrated forecasts with the parameters and the joint model. The SCC model has been introduced in detail in our site- and continental-scale calibrations of NWP precipitation forecasts (Wang et al., 2019; Yang et al., 2021a).

In this study, we use the Yeo–Johnson transformation method to transform the anomalies of forecasts and reference data to approach a normal distribution (Yeo and Johnson, 2000):

where *λ* is a transformation parameter; *x* refers to anomalies of daily
raw ETo forecasts or AWAP ETo (mm d^{−1}); $\widehat{x}$ is the transformed *x*.

We assume that the transformed anomalies of ETo forecasts (*f*(*t*)) and AWAP
ETo (*o*(*t*)) are drawn from a bivariate normal (BN) distribution:

where *m*(*t*) returns the month *k* (*k*=1 to 12) of daily forecasts
or observations of day *t*; *μ*_{f}(m(*t*))
and *σ*_{f}(*m*(*t*)) refer to the marginal distribution's mean
and standard deviation of *f*(t) in month m(*t*),
respectively; *μ*_{o}(m(*t*)) and *σ*_{o}(*m*(*t*)) are the mean and standard deviation of the marginal distribution
of *o*(t) in month m(*t*); *ρ*(m(*t*)) is the correlation between *f*(t) and *o*(t) of month m(*t*).

With the long-term (20-year) AWAP ETo data, we can directly estimate *μ*_{o}(m(*t*)) and *σ*_{o}(*m*(*t*)) based on a
maximum likelihood optimization. Calculation of the mean (*μ*_{f}(*m*(*t*))) and standard deviation (*σ*_{f}(*m*(t))) using the short-archived raw ETo (3-year) forecasts is subject to significant sampling errors. Instead, we indirectly
estimate them using the following linear regressions:

where *k* refers to month of the year (*k*=1 to 12); *a*, *b*, *c*, and *d* are parameters
characterizing the linear relationships; *ρ*(*k*) denotes the correlation
coefficient between anomalies of raw forecast and AWAP ETo for each month; and
*r* is the correlation coefficient between anomalies of raw forecasts and
observations in the transformed space (Wang et al.,
2019).

With the optimized parameters (means, standard deviations, and correlations)
for the BN distribution (Eq. 4), a conditional distribution for *o*(*t*)
for a given raw forecast (*f*(*t*)) is derived. From this conditional
distribution, we randomly draw 100 samples, which are treated as the
calibrated ensemble forecasts for that raw forecast. Finally, the calibrated
anomalies are back-transformed to their original space and added back to the
climatological mean to produce calibrated ETo forecasts.

## 2.4 Evaluation of calibrated forecasts

We evaluate the performance of the calibrations using a strict leave-one-month-out cross-validation, in which each of the 36 months during April 2016–March 2019 and the same month in the 20-year reference data (April 1999 to March 2019) are left out in parameter inference. Optimized parameters are then used to calibrate raw forecasts of this specific month. This process is repeated until all 36 months are processed. The cross-validation is to make sure that raw forecasts used to generate calibrated forecasts are not used in parameter optimization.

We also produce climatology forecasts based on the monthly mean and standard
deviation parameters of AWAP ETo (Eq. 4). The randomly sampled
climatology is used as the baseline to evaluate the calibrated ETo
forecasts. We evaluate the calibrations by checking bias, temporal
variability, skill score, and reliability of the calibrated forecasts. We
conduct *t* tests to compare the performance of bias correction to input variables and
the calibrations of ETo forecasts (Tables S1 and S2). The evaluation metrics
are further introduced in detail as follows.

### 2.4.1 Bias

We evaluate bias of the raw and calibrated forecasts relative to AWAP ETo using the following equation:

where “Bias” refers to the average difference between ETo forecasts and AWAP ETo
(mm d^{−1}); *T* is total number of days during the 3-year validation period
(April 2016–March 2019); *x*(*t*) is raw or calibrated forecasts of ETo (mm d^{−1}); and
*y*(*t*) is the corresponding AWAP ETo of the same period. Since bias measures
the average difference between forecasts and observations and could be
either possible and negative, comparing biases of forecasts from different
calibrations directly will not demonstrate which calibration has better
performance. To solve this problem, we compare the absolute bias of
calibrated forecasts from different calibrations to evaluate how
bias correction of input variables affects the accuracy of calibrated ETo
forecasts. Lower absolute bias indicates smaller differences between
forecasts and AWAP ETo and therefore suggests better performances.

### 2.4.2 Temporal variability

We use the Pearson correlation coefficient (*r*) between raw and bias-corrected
forecasts of input variables and the corresponding AWAP data to evaluate how
quantile mapping improves the temporal patterns of the input variables. We
also compare the *r* between raw ETo forecasts (calibrations 1 or 3) constructed
with raw inputs and AWAP ETo vs. the *r* between raw ETo forecasts
(calibrations 2 or 4) constructed with bias-corrected inputs and AWAP ETo.
In the evaluation of calibrated ensemble forecasts, we use the ensemble mean
of the 100 ensemble members to calculate *r*:

where *x*(*t*) is raw or calibrated forecasts; $\stackrel{\mathrm{\u203e}}{x}$ is the average of
*x*(*t*); *y*(*t*) is the corresponding AWAP ETo data of the same period; and
$\stackrel{\mathrm{\u203e}}{y}$ is the average of *y*(*t*).

### 2.4.3 Skills of the raw and calibrated forecasts

We use the continuous ranked probability score (CRPS) to measure skills in the raw and calibrated forecasts (Grimit et al., 2006):

where *F*(*t*,*x*) is the cumulative density function of an
ensemble forecast, and *y*(t) is the observation at time *t*;
*H* is the Heaviside step function (*H*=1 if $x-y\left(t\right)\ge \mathrm{0}$ and
*H*=0 otherwise); the overbar represents averaging across the *T* days. For
deterministic forecasts, CRPS is reduced to absolute errors.

We further calculate the CRPS skill score (CRPS_{SS}) to measure the
skills relative to climatology forecasts using the following equation:

where CRPS_{reference} is the CRPS value of climatology forecasts ( %);
CRPS_{forecasts} refers to CRPS value of raw or calibrated forecasts.

In the calculation of CRPS skill score, both climatology forecasts or the
last observations (persistence) have been used as reference forecasts (Pappenberger et al.,
2015; Thiemig et al., 2015). However, reference forecasts based on
persistence are more suitable for evaluating the performance of forecasts
shorter than 2 d. As a result, we choose climatology forecasts as the
reference, since errors in climate forecasts are similar among all lead
times and thus could be used to demonstrate the increasing errors in raw and
calibrated forecasts as lead time advances. For CRPS_{SS} of calibrations
1 and 2, climatology forecasts from calibration 1 are used; For CRPS_{SS}
of calibrations 3 and 4, climatology forecasts from calibration 3 are used.
Positive skill scores indicate better skills than the climatology forecasts
and vice versa. We use percentage as the unit of CRPS skill score, so low
skill scores at long lead times will be converted from small decimals to
more readable percent.

### 2.4.4 Reliability

We evaluate the reliability of calibrated forecasts using the probability integral transform (PIT) value calculated with the following equation:

where *F*(*t*,*x*) is the cumulative density function of the
ensemble forecast, and *y*(t) is the AWAP ETo. For reliable
forecasts, *π*(t) follows a uniform distribution. We use the
*α* index (*α*) to summarize the reliability in each grid cell with
the following equation to check the spatial patterns of forecast reliability
(Renard et al., 2010):

where *π*^{*}(*t*) is the sorted *π*(*t*), $t=\mathrm{1},\mathrm{2},\phantom{\rule{0.125em}{0ex}}\mathrm{\dots}\phantom{\rule{0.125em}{0ex}}n$ in
ascending order, and *n* is the total number of days during April 2016–March 2019. The
*α* index measures the total deviation of calibrated forecasts from
the corresponding uniform quantile. Perfectly reliable forecasts should have
an *α* of 1, and forecasts with no reliability would have an *α*
of 0.

We further evaluate the reliability of calibrated ETo forecasts from
calibration 2 using the reliability diagram (Hartmann et
al., 2002), which assesses how well the predicted probabilities of forecasts
match observed frequencies. We convert the calibrated ensemble ETo forecasts
to forecast probabilities exceeding three thresholds, including 3, 6, and 9 mm d^{−1}. We pool forecasts of different grid cells, days, and lead
times together in the calculation of forecast probability. In the
reliability diagram, perfectly reliable forecasts would demonstrate a curve
along the diagonal. A plotted curve above the diagonal indicates
underestimations and vice versa.

## 3.1 Quality of raw and bias-corrected input variables

Raw forecasts of the five input variables demonstrate significant
inconsistencies with the corresponding AWAP data (Figs. S2–S6). In most
parts of Australia, raw daily maximum temperature (*T*_{max}) forecasts are lower
than AWAP data by 1–2 ^{∘}C. Overpredictions in *T*_{max} are only found
in coastal areas of northwestern Australia. The daily minimum temperature
(*T*_{min}) is underpredicted by more than 1.5 ^{∘}C in western and
central parts of Australia by the raw forecasts, but it is overpredicted by ca.
1 ^{∘}C in eastern and southern Australia. Vapor pressure is
underpredicted in western and central regions by ca. 14 %, but it is
overpredicted by ca. 6 % in coastal areas of southeastern Australia by the
raw forecasts. Raw solar radiation forecasts are about 5 % higher than
AWAP data across Australia. Forecasted wind speed is higher than the
reference data by more than 1 m s^{−1} (or by ca. 63 %) in most parts of
Australia. For each input variable, spatial patterns of biases in raw
forecasts are consistent across the nine lead times, demonstrating systematic
errors in the raw NWP forecasts. According to our statistical test,
overpredictions or underpredictions in raw forecasts of the input variables
are statistically significant (*P**<*0.05) for most lead times (Table S1).

Raw forecasts of the input variables generally agree with the AWAP data in
temporal patterns during the study period, but the *r* varies with variables
(Figs. S7–S11). The two temperature variables (*T*_{max} and *T*_{min}) have higher
*r* (*>*0.9) than the other three variables, and wind speed forecasts
demonstrate the lowest correlations with AWAP data. For all variables, the *r* decreases
with lead time, indicating higher uncertainties at long lead times in raw
forecasts.

Quantile mapping effectively corrects biases in raw forecasts of the input
variables. Through the bias correction, significant overpredictions and
underpredictions in raw forecasts of the five variables are significantly
reduced, resulting in biases close to zero for all lead times across
Australia (Figs. S2–S6). In addition, quantile mapping also improves the
correlation between forecasts of input variables and AWAP data (Figs. S7–S11). The most significant improvements are found in wind speed
forecasts, in which the *r* is improved by up to 0.2 in central and southern
parts of Australia. Forecasts of *T*_{max} and solar radiation also demonstrate
higher *r* with the adoption of quantile mapping. Both increases and slight
decreases were found for vapor pressure and *T*_{min}, indicating less
significant improvements in temporal patterns than other variables.

## 3.2 Quality of raw ETo forecasts constructed with raw and bias-corrected input variables

Raw ETo forecasts constructed with the bias-corrected input variables are
much more accurate than those calculated with raw forecasts of the input
variables (Figs. 1 and S12). When raw ETo forecasts are constructed with
raw input variables, biases in input variables are translated into errors in
the raw ETo forecasts, which demonstrate substantial positive biases of 1 mm d^{−1} (ca. 12 % larger than AWAP ETo) in large areas of central and northern
Australia. In the raw ETo forecasts constructed with bias-corrected input
variables, biases approach zero in most parts of Australia, except for
inland regions of Queensland, where biases are close to 0.3 mm d^{−1} (ca. 4 % larger than AWAP ETo). The remaining biases are significantly lower
than those in the raw ETo forecasts constructed with raw input variables
(Table S2).

The adoption of quantile mapping to input variables also improves the
temporal patterns of raw ETo forecasts (Fig. 2). Compared with the raw ETo
forecasts constructed with raw input variables, the raw ETo forecasts based
on bias-corrected inputs generally shows higher correlations with AWAP ETo,
particularly in northern Australia, where *r* is improved by more than 10 %.
However, due to the nonlinearity in the calculation of ETo using the input
variables, spatial patterns of improvements in *r* (Fig. 2) does not resemble
improvements in any individual input variables (Figs. S7 to S11). The
improvements in *r* of raw ETo forecasts seem to be contributed jointly by these
input variables and their interactions.

## 3.3 Bias in calibrated ETo forecasts

The calibration with the SCC model further reduces biases in ETo forecasts
(Fig. 3). The calibrated ETo forecasts from calibration 2 show low biases
close to zero across all grid cells and lead times. Overpredictions in
Queensland in the raw ETo forecasts calculated with the bias-corrected input
variables are effectively corrected (Figs. 1, 3, and S12), leading to
lower biases in the calibrated forecasts. According to the *t* test (Table S2),
biases of calibrated forecasts at the first two lead times are not
significantly different from zero, indicating the effective bias reduction
through calibration 2. For the remaining seven lead times (days 3 to 9), the
overall biases are slightly higher than zero. The remaining biases in
calibrated forecasts reflect deviations of ETo during the evaluation period
(April 2016–March 2019) from the climatology during April 1999–March 2019, since the SCC
parameters are inferred with the 20-year AWAP ETo (Eqs. 4 to 7).

Compared with the calibration constructing raw ETo forecasts with raw
forecasts of input variables (calibration 1), the postprocessing based on
bias-corrected input variables (calibration 2) produces more accurate
calibrated ETo forecasts (Fig. 4). Specifically, calibrated ETo forecasts
from calibration 2 demonstrate significantly smaller (*P**<*0.05)
absolute biases than those of calibration 1 across large areas of northern
Australia, particularly in coastal regions of the Northern Territory. Larger
reductions in absolute bias in northern Australia coincide with the
improvements in the correlation between raw ETo forecasts and AWAP ETo
(Fig. 2). However, unlike the improvements in *r* for all lead times in raw
ETo forecasts, the improvements in absolute bias are more pronounced at
short lead times (days 1–3) than long lead times (days 7–9). The uneven
improvements across different lead times may be caused by the significant
intrinsic uncertainties in forecasts, which have hindered the manifestation
of improvements to raw ETo forecasts at long lead times in calibrated
forecasts.

## 3.4 Correlation between calibrated ETo forecasts and AWAP ETo

We further examine the representation of ETo temporal variability by
calibrated forecasts. The *r* between calibrated ETo forecasts from calibration
2 and AWAP ETo demonstrates high consistency in temporal variability (Fig. 5). The correlation coefficient is mainly above 0.85 across Australia for
the first three lead times. With increases in lead time, *r* decreases but
remains above 0.75 in most grid cells, even at lead time 9. Coastal areas of
northern Australia have lower *r* values than other regions of the country,
demonstrating higher uncertainties in ETo forecasts this area. Deficiencies
in ACCESS models in simulating dynamics of tropical climate systems may have
resulted in the low r in northern Australia.

The adoption of bias correction to raw forecasts of input variables results
in better representation of ETo variability in calibrated ETo forecasts
(Fig. 6 and Table S2). Increases in *r* are particularly significant for
short lead times (Table S2). Specifically, for the first three lead times,
increases in *r* are mainly around 2 % in central and northern parts of
Australia, with more pronounced (*>*4 %) increases found in
coastal regions of the Northern Territory. For lead times 4 to 6, increases
in *r* values are mainly above 1 %. For the remaining three lead times (7 to 9),
increases in *r* are mainly located in Northern Territory. Spatial patterns of
*r* increases from calibration 1 to calibration 2 are consistent across the nine lead times.

Spatial patterns of improvements in *r* in calibrated ETo forecasts (Fig. 6)
are consistent with the improvements in *r* of raw ETo forecasts with the
adoption of bias correction (Fig. 2), particularly for the short lead
times. The improvements in *r* of calibrated ETo forecasts (Fig. 6) may also
lead to more reasonable conditional distributions for a given raw forecast
(Eq. 4). As a result, regions showing improvements in *r* in calibrated
ETo forecasts (Fig. 6) often demonstrate reductions in absolute bias
(Fig. 4).

## 3.5 Improvements in forecast skills

The calibration of ETo forecasts with the SCC model significantly improves forecast skills. The raw ETo forecasts calculated with bias-corrected input variables demonstrate low skills, even at short lead times (Figs. 7 and S13). Specifically, for the first two lead times, central and southern Australia show skills better than the climatology forecasts by 10 % to 20 %. However, in most parts of northern Australia, raw forecasts are worse than randomly sampled climatology. Skills in raw ETo forecasts decrease quickly with lead time. Regions with positive skills shrink substantially at lead times 3 and 4 and disappear at longer lead times. At lead time 9, skills of raw forecasts are mainly below −40 %.

The calibration significantly improves forecast skills across all lead times (Table S2). Calibrated ETo forecasts from calibration 2 show CRPS skill scores above 35 % at lead time 1 across Australia, and the skills are generally above 30 % at lead times 2 and 3. Since ETo forecasts have been widely used to inform real-time decision-making for farming, high skills in calibrated ETo forecasts for the short lead times are expected to be highly valuable for activities such as irrigation scheduling. Although skills of calibrated forecasts also decrease with lead time, they remain above zero at long lead times (Figs. 7 and S13).

We further compare skills of calibrated ETo forecasts between calibrations 2
and 1 (Fig. 8). We achieve significant increases (*P**<*0.05) in CRPS
skill scores with the adoption of bias correction to input variables,
particularly for short lead times (Table S2). For the first three lead
times, the CRPS skill scores are increased by more than 4 % in
northwestern and eastern Australia, when input variables are bias corrected.
For lead times 4 to 6, the CRPS skill scores are increased by 2 % in these
regions of Australia. Although the differences become less noticeable at
lead times 7 to 9, they are generally above zero in most parts of Australia.
Increases in CRPS skill score across the nine lead times are in line with
improvements in absolute bias (Fig. 4) and correlation coefficient (Fig. 6), which all show more significant improvements at short lead times than
long lead times.

## 3.6 Reliability of calibrated ETo forecasts

The calibrated ensemble ETo forecasts from calibration 2 demonstrate high
reliability (Fig. 9). In addition to correcting bias, the SCC model
converts deterministic raw forecasts to ensemble forecasts, which use 100
ensemble members to quantify forecast uncertainty. Figure 9 demonstrates
highly reliable ensemble spreads in calibrated forecasts across all lead
times. In most grid cells, the *α* index is over 0.9, indicating
reasonable representations of ETo uncertainties by the ensemble spread,
which is neither too narrow nor too wide (Fig. 9). Calibrated forecasts
from calibration 1, which uses raw input variables, demonstrate similar
reliability as those from the calibration with bias-corrected input
variables (calibration 2). Differences in *α* index of the calibrated
ETo forecasts from calibrations 1 and 2 are almost negligible (Fig. S14),
as shown by the *t* test (Table S2), indicating that bias-correcting raw forecasts
of input variables does not lead to significant changes in the reliability
of calibrated ETo forecasts.

The reliability diagram further confirms the consistency between forecast
probabilities and observed frequencies (Fig. 10). The plotted curves based
on three thresholds (3, 6, and 9 mm d^{−1}) are mainly distributed along
the 1:1 line, further indicating the high reliability of calibrated ETo
forecasts.

## 3.7 Results from calibrations 3 and 4

We also compare the bias, correlation coefficient, CRPS skill score, and
reliability of calibrated forecasts from calibrations 3 and 4 to evaluate
whether we can obtain similar improvements through the bias correction of
input variables if we conduct the ETo forecast calibration in a different
way (without using ETo climatological mean and anomalies). Results show that
the adoption of bias correction also leads to lower bias, higher correlation
coefficient, and higher CRPS skill score in terms of magnitude, spatial
patterns, and trend along the lead times, when ETo forecasts are calibrated
directly (Figs. S15–S17). In addition, the *α* index was only slightly
different between calibrations 3 and 4 (Fig. S18). This additional
comparison further confirms the general applicability of strategy ii for
enhancing NWP-based ETo forecasting.

## 3.8 Summary of results

Although the selected metrics measure different aspects of forecast quality,
they generally agree with each other in demonstrating improvements in
calibrated ETo forecasts with the adoption of the strategy ii. As introduced
in the Method section, bias measures average differences; correlation
coefficient shows consistency between observations and forecasts in temporal
variability; the CRPS skill score measures the performance of the calibrated
forecasts relative to climatology forecast; the *α* index is an
indicator showing whether the distribution of calibrated forecasts is
overconfident or underconfident. As a result, these metrics may differ from
each other in magnitude when used to evaluate different calibrations
(Figs. 4, 6, 8, and S14). However, improvements in bias, correlation, and
skills with the adoption of bias correction to input variables are generally
consistent in spatial patterns. Compared with the other three metrics,
*α* index demonstrates less significant changes when input variables
are bias corrected first (Table S2 and Fig. S14), mainly because this
index is less sensitive to changes in calibrated forecasts than other
metrics.

## 4.1 Importance of improving forecasts of input variables for NWP-based ETo forecasting

This investigation further highlights the importance of statistical calibration in NWP-based ETo forecasting (Medina and Tian, 2020). According to an investigation across 40 sites in Australia, raw ETo forecasts constructed with NWP outputs reasonably captured the magnitude and variability of ETo, but forecast skills better than climatology were only limited to the first six lead times (Perera et al., 2014). Our investigation suggests that statistical calibration could substantially improve forecast skills and successfully extend the skillful forecasts to lead time 9 across Australia. Findings of this investigation agree well with the site-scale short-term ETo forecasting based on GCM outputs (Zhao et al., 2019a) in the improvements of forecast skills through statistical calibration. Calibrated forecasts from calibration 2 demonstrate similar skills as Zhao et al. (2019a) across three Australian sites. Thanks to the capability of SCC in calibrating short-archived forecasts (Wang et al., 2019), we achieve the improvements based on much shorter archived raw forecasts (3-year vs. 23-year) than Zhao et al. (2019a). Calibrated forecasts from calibration 2 also demonstrate low biases (0.32 %–0.95 %) comparable with calibrated ETo forecasts (0.49 %–0.63 %) based on the Bayesian model averaging (BMA) model and weather forecasts from three NWP models in the USA during 2014–2016 (Medina and Tian, 2020).

This investigation also contributes to filling a knowledge gap in NWP-based ETo forecasting. Although previous calibrations using raw forecasts of input variables to construct the raw ETo forecasts (strategy i) for calibration often achieved significant improvements in skills, it is unclear whether improving forecasts of input variables could further enhance ETo forecast calibration (Medina and Tian, 2020). How the raw ETo forecasts should be constructed represents a critical knowledge gap in the area of NWP-based ETo forecasting (Medina and Tian, 2020). Results of this investigation provide strong evidence for the necessity of improving input variables prior to constructing raw ETo forecasts. The nonlinear and nonstationary behaviors of the input variables used for ETo calculation have been reported (Paredes et al., 2018). This study suggests that when raw input variables are used to construct the raw ETo forecasts, complex interactions among these variables may lead to errors in raw ETo forecasts that could not be effectively corrected through statistical calibration. Bias correction of input variables could help prohibit the propagation of errors from input variables to ETo forecasts (Zappa et al., 2010), as evidenced by the higher accuracy and higher skills in calibrated ETo forecasts when input variables are bias corrected. In addition, a further evaluation based on a different way of implementing the SCC model demonstrates similar improvements in calibrated ETo forecasts with the adoption of bias correction to input variables (calibrations 3 and 4). Results from calibrations 3 and 4 further confirm that additional skills have been added to raw ETo forecasts through the bias correction of input variables, and the improvements to calibrated ETo forecasts tend to be independent of calibration models. Consequently, we anticipate that future NWP-based ETo forecasting could benefit from adopting this calibration strategy to produce more skillful calibrated ETo forecasts.

## 4.2 Implications for forecasting of integrated variables and future work

This investigation also provides valuable implications for the forecasting of integrated variables, which are derived based on multiple NWP/GCM variables. Variables such as drought index (Zhang et al., 2017), bushfire danger index (Sharples et al., 2009), and severe weather index (Rabbani et al., 2020) are often derived by combining multiple weather variables produced by NWP models. Our investigation suggests that improving the input variables could effectively reduce error propagation from inputs to integrated variables. This extra step is proven to be particularly useful in reducing errors in the integrated variables that could not be corrected through calibration. We anticipate that this extra step could help improve the predictability of integrated variables.

Although we have conducted thorough analyses on the contribution of improving input variables to ETo forecast calibration, further investigations will be needed to validate the robustness of findings in this study. First, we anticipate that the ETo forecasts could be further improved if a more sophisticated calibration model is applied to raw forecasts of the input variables. In this study, we adopt a simple bias-correction method to improve the input variables. Limitations of quantile mapping have been reported in previous studies (Schepen et al., 2020; Zhao et al., 2017). Our analyses demonstrate that the raw ETo forecasts calculated with the bias-corrected input variables still show low forecast skills, particularly at long lead times (Fig. 7). If a more sophisticated calibration method is employed to the input variables, error propagation from input variables to ETo forecasts will likely be further reduced. As a result, we anticipate that the calibrated ETo forecast will gain further improvements in forecast skills. Another advantage of correcting input variables with a sophisticated model is that it will produce a set of skillful calibrated weather forecasts. Well-calibrated forecasts of temperature, vapor pressure, solar radiation, and wind speed could be useful for forecast users such as crop modelers and bushfire managers.

Second, the two calibration strategies should be tested using other NWP models. In this study, we use one NWP model to investigate a critical knowledge gap in NWP-based ETo forecasting. Additional investigations are needed to examine whether improvements achieved with the adoption of calibration strategy ii will hold for ETo forecasting based on other NWP models. Third, further investigations based on other calibration models are needed to validate findings of this investigation. Our analyses based on two different methods (based on ETo anomalies vs. based on original ETo) demonstrate similar improvements in calibrated ETo forecasts with the adoption of bias correction to input variables. Additional evaluations will be needed to verify whether forecast skills will be improved using strategy ii but based on a different calibration model. In addition, we use bilinear interpolation to match the NWP forecasts and AWAP data. More sophisticated remapping methods should be evaluated to understand the impacts of forecast regridding on statistical calibration.

The applicability of the calibration strategy developed in this study to seasonal ETo forecasting should be further investigated. Seasonal ETo forecasting based on GCM climate forecast has been increasingly performed (Tian et al., 2014; Zhao et al., 2019b). In these investigations, raw ETo forecasts were also constructed directly with raw GCM climate forecasts. As a result, it is expected that these investigations have suffered from error propagation from input variables to seasonal ETo forecasts. Whether the calibration strategy (strategy ii) developed in this study will be applicable to seasonal ETo forecasting warrants further investigations.

NWP outputs have been increasingly used for ETo forecasting to support water resource management. Statistical calibration plays an essential role in improving the quality of ETo forecasts. However, it is unclear whether improving raw forecasts of input variables is necessary for the calibration of ETo forecasts. We aim to fill this knowledge gap through a thorough comparison of two calibration strategies in the calibration of NWP-based ETo forecasts.

This investigation clearly suggests the necessity of improving input variables as part of ETo forecast calibration. With this extra step, the bias, correlation coefficient, and skills of the calibrated ETo forecasts are all improved. Further investigation indicates that the improvements tend to be independent of the calibration method applied to ETo forecasts. Forecasting the highly variable ETo is often challenging. This investigation addresses a common challenge in NWP-based ETo forecasting and develops an effective calibration strategy for adding extra skills to ETo forecasts. We anticipate that future NWP-based ETo forecasting could benefit from adopting this strategy to produce more skillful calibrated ETo forecasts. This strategy is also expected to be applicable to enhancing the forecasting of other integrated variables that are calculated using multiple NWP/GCM variables as inputs.

Data used in this study are available by contacting the corresponding author.

The supplement related to this article is available online at: https://doi.org/10.5194/hess-25-4773-2021-supplement.

QY and QJW conceived this study. QJW developed the calibration model. QY took the lead in writing and improving the article. All co-authors, including KH and YT, contributed to discussing the results and improving this study.

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Publisher's note: Copernicus Publications remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Computations for this research were undertaken with the assistance of resources and services from the National Computational Infrastructure (NCI), which is supported by the Australian Government. This research was supported by the “Sustaining and strengthening merit-based access to National Computational Infrastructure” (NCI) LIEF grant (LE190100021) and facilitated by The University of Melbourne.

This research has been supported by the Australian Research Council (grant no. LP170100922) and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (grant no. TP707466).

This paper was edited by Nadia Ursino and reviewed by three anonymous referees.

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