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Development of a Prototype High-Resolution Prediction System for Precipitation, Soil Moisture, and Streamflow over North America

NIDIS Supported Research
NIDIS-Supported Research
Main Summary

Despite considerable advances in our understanding of drought mechanisms (role of sea surface temperature, land atmosphere feedbacks, etc.), there has been little improvement in drought predictions on seasonal timescales. In fact, seasonal forecast information appears to provide little additional skill to hydrologic forecasts, beyond that obtained from the initial land conditions, though some improvement can be achieved by conditioning the forecasts on the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO).

The goal of this research was to improve hydrologic (precipitation, soil moisture, streamflow) prediction skill on subseasonal to seasonal timescales by developing and evaluating a prototype drought prediction system that takes advantage of a number of recent advances in our modeling and understanding of precipitation variability, as well as improvements in the soil moisture initial conditions. 

This project was part of the Modeling Analysis, Predictions, and Projections (MAPP) Program and National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) supported Drought Task Force I.

For more information, please contact Amanda Sheffield (

Research Snapshot

Research Timeline
September 2011 – August 2014
Principal Investigator(s)
Siegfried Schubert, NASA Goddard
Project Funding
Modeling, Analysis, Predictions, and Projections (MAPP) FY 2011
Focus Areas (DEWS Components)

Results of This Research

The results of this study provided important groundwork for the development of a high-resolution prediction system for precipitation, soil moisture, and streamflow over North America. This includes:

  • Improved understanding of the causes of drought, and the ability of climate models forced with observed sea surface temperatures to reproduce recent high-profile events
  • The establishment of a baseline for assessing any improvements in the skill of hydrologic models forced with coupled model forecasts
  • An assessment of downscaling and multimodel forecasts
  • A better understanding of why parts of the continental United States would not benefit from the added information contained in high-resolution precipitation forecasts. 

In particular, the study identified the important role of the tropical Pacific, tropical Atlantic, and Indian Ocean sea surface temperatures, the key role of soil moisture feedbacks, and the importance of unforced internal atmospheric variability, in the development of drought over North America.

This research resulted in several peer-reviewed publications, including:

Key regions

Research Scope