Real-time precipitation estimation based on index station percentiles


Tang, Q., Wood, A.W., Lettenmaier, D.P.  2009. Real-time precipitation estimation based on index station percentiles. Journal of Hydrometeorology 10(1): 266-277.


Operational hydrologic models are typically calibrated using meteorological inputs derived from retrospective station data that are commonly not available in real time. Inconsistencies between the calibration and (generally sparser) real-time station datasets can be a source of bias, which can be addressed by expressing real-time hydrological model forcings (primarily precipitation) as percentiles for a set of index stations that report both in real time and during the retrospective calibration period, and by using the real-time percentiles to create adjusted precipitation forcings. Although hydrological model precipitation forcings typically are required at time steps of one day or shorter, percentiles can be calculated for longer averaging periods to reduce the percentile estimation errors.

The authors propose an index station percentile method (ISPM) to estimate precipitation at the models input time step using percentiles, relative to a climatological period, for a set of index stations that report in real time. In general, this approach is most appropriate to situations in which the spatial correlation of precipitation is high, such as cold season rainfall in the western United States. The authors evaluate the ISPM approach, including performance sensitivity to the choice of percentile estimation period length, using the Klamath River basin, Oregon, as a case study. Relative to orographically adjusted interpolation of the real-time index station values, ISPM gives better estimates of precipitation throughout the basin. The authors find that ISPM performs best for percentile estimation periods longer than 10 days, with diminishing returns for averaging periods longer than 30 days. They also evaluate the performance of ISPM for a reduced station scenario and find that performance is relatively stable, relative to the competing methods, as the number of real-time stations diminishes.