There is a long history of debate on the usefulness of climate model-based seasonal hydroclimatic forecasts as compared to ensemble streamflow prediction (ESP). In this study, the authors use NCEP's operational forecast system, the Climate Forecast System version 2 (CFSv2), and its previous version, CFSv1, to investigate the value of climate models by conducting a set of 27-yr seasonal hydroclimatic hindcasts over the conterminous United States (CONUS). Through Bayesian downscaling, climate models have higher squared correlation R2 and smaller error than ESP for monthly precipitation, and the forecasts conditional on ENSO have further improvements over southern basins out to 4 months. Verification of streamflow forecasts over 1734 U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) gauges shows that CFSv2 has moderately smaller error than ESP, but all three approaches have limited added skill against climatology beyond 1 month because of overforecasting or underdispersion errors. Using a postprocessor, 60%-70% of probabilistic streamflow forecasts are more skillful than climatology. All three approaches have plausible predictions of soil moisture drought frequency over the central United States out to 6 months, and climate models provide better results over the central and eastern United States. The R2 of drought extent is higher for arid basins and for the forecasts initiated during dry seasons, but significant improvements from CFSv2 occur in different seasons for different basins. The R2 of drought severity accumulated over CONUS is higher during winter, and climate models present added value, especially at long leads. This study indicates that climate models can provide better seasonal hydroclimatic forecasts than ESP through appropriate downscaling procedures, but significant improvements are dependent on the variables, seasons, and regions.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Atmospheric Science