Hydroclimate of the western United States based on observations and regional climate simulation of 1981-2000. Part I: Seasonal Statistics


Leung, L.R., Qian, Y., Bian, X., Hunt, A. 2003. Hydroclimate of the western United States based on observations and regional climate simulation of 1981-2000. Part I: Seasonal Statistics. Journal of Climate 16:1892-1911.


The regional climate of the western United States shows clear footprints of interaction between atmospheric circulation and orography. The unique features of this diverse climate regime challenges climate modeling. This paper provides detailed analyses of observations and regional climate simulations to improve our understanding and modeling of the climate of this region. The primary data used in this study are the 1/88 gridded temperature and precipitation based on station observations and the NCEP-NCAR global reanalyses.

These data were used to evaluate a 20-yr regional climate simulation performed using the fifth-generation Pennsylvania State University-National Center for Atmospheric Research (Penn State-NCAR) Mesoscale Model (MM5) driven by large-scale conditions of the NCEP-NCAR reanalyses. Regional climate features examined include seasonal mean and extreme precipitation; distribution of precipitation rates; and precipitation intensity, frequency, and seasonality. The relationships between precipitation and surface temperature are also analyzed as a means to evaluate how well regional climate simulations can be used to simulate surface hydrology, and relationships between precipitation and elevation are analyzed as diagnostics of the impacts of surface topography and spatial resolution. The latter was performed at five east-west transects that cut across various topographic features in the western United States. These analyses suggest that the regional simulation realistically captures many regional climate features. The simulated seasonal mean and extreme precipitation are comparable to observations. The regional simulation produces precipitation over a wide range of precipitation rates comparable to observations. Obvious biases in the simulation include the oversimulation of precipitation in the basins and intermountain West during the cold season, and the undersimulation in the Southwest in the warm season. There is a tendency of reduced precipitation frequency rather than intensity in the simulation during the summer in the Northwest and Southwest, which leads to the insufficient summer mean precipitation in those areas. Because of the general warm biases in the simulation, there is also a tendency for more precipitation events to be associated with warmer temperatures, which can affect the simulation of snowpack and runoff.