The sensitivity of precipitation and snowpack simulations to model resolution via nesting in regions of complex terrain


Leung, L.R., Qian, Y. 2003. The sensitivity of precipitation and snowpack simulations to model resolution via nesting in regions of complex terrain. Journal of Hydrometeorology 4:1025-1043.


This paper examines the sensitivity of regional climate simulations to increasing spatial resolution via nesting by means of a 20-yr simulation of the western United States at 40-km resolution and a 5-yr simulation at 13-km resolution for the Pacific Northwest and California.

The regional simulation at 40-km resolution shows a lack of precipitation along coastal hills, good agreement with observations on the windward slopes of the Cascades and Sierra Nevada, but overprediction on the leeside and the basins beyond. Snowpack is grossly underpredicted throughout the western United States when compared against snowpack telemetry (snotel) observations. During winter, higher spatial resolution mainly improves the precipitation simulation in the coastal hills and basins.

Along the Cascades and the Sierra Nevada range, precipitation is strongly amplified at the higher spatial resolution. Higher resolution generally improves the spatial distribution of precipitation to yield a higher spatial correlation between simulations and observations. During summer, higher resolution improves not only the spatial distribution but also the regional mean precipitation. In the Olympic Mountains and along the Coastal Range, increased precipitation at higher resolution reflects mainly a shift from light to heavy precipitation events. In the Cascades and Sierra Nevada, increased precipitation is mainly associated with more frequent heavy precipitation at higher resolution.

Changes in precipitation from 40- to 13-km resolution depend on synoptic conditions such as wind direction and moisture transport. The use of higher spatial resolution improves snowpack more than precipitation. However, results presented in this paper suggest that accuracy in the snow simulation is also limited by factors such as deficiencies in the land surface model or biases in other model variables.