Spatial variability in snow precipitation and accumulation in COSMO–WRF simulations and radar estimations over complex terrain

Gerber, Franziska; Besic, Nikola; Sharma, Varun; Mott, Rebecca; Daniels, Megan; Gabella, Marco; Berne, Alexis; Germann, Urs; Lehning, Michael

Snow distribution in complex alpine terrain and its evolution in the future climate is important in a variety of applications including hydropower, avalanche forecasting and freshwater resources. However, it is still challenging to quantitatively forecast precipitation, especially over complex terrain where the interaction between local wind and precipitation fields strongly affects snow distribution at the mountain ridge scale. Therefore, it is essential to retrieve high-resolution information about precipitation processes over complex terrain. Here, we present very-high-resolution Weather Research and Forecasting model (WRF) simulations (COSMO–WRF), which are initialized by 2.2 km resolution Consortium for Small-scale Modeling (COSMO) analysis. To assess the ability of COSMO–WRF to represent spatial snow precipitation patterns, they are validated against operational weather radar measurements. Estimated COSMO–WRF precipitation is generally higher than estimated radar precipitation, most likely due to an overestimation of orographic precipitation enhancement in the model. The high precipitation amounts also lead to a higher spatial variability in the model compared to radar estimates. Overall, an autocorrelation and scale analysis of radar and COSMO–WRF precipitation patterns at a horizontal grid spacing of 450 m show that COSMO–WRF captures the spatial variability normalized by the domain-wide variability in precipitation patterns down to the scale of a few kilometers. However, simulated precipitation patterns systematically show a lower variability on the smallest scales of a few hundred meters compared to radar estimates. A comparison of spatial variability for different model resolutions gives evidence for an improved representation of local precipitation processes at a horizontal resolution of 50 m compared to 450 m. Additionally, differences of precipitation between 2830 m above sea level and the ground indicate that near-surface processes are active in the model.



Gerber, Franziska / Besic, Nikola / Sharma, Varun / et al: Spatial variability in snow precipitation and accumulation in COSMO–WRF simulations and radar estimations over complex terrain. 2018. Copernicus Publications.


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