The impacts of climatological adjustment of quantitative precipitation estimates on the accuracy of flash flood detection
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The impacts of climatological adjustment of quantitative precipitation estimates on the accuracy of flash flood detection

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  • Journal Title:
    Journal of Hydrology
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    The multisensor Quantitative Precipitation Estimates (MQPEs) created by the US National Weather Service (NWS) are subject to a non-stationary bias. This paper quantifies the impacts of climatological adjustment of MQPEs alone, as well as the compound impacts of adjustment and model calibration, on the accuracy of simulated flood peak magnitude and that in detecting flood events. Our investigation is based on 19 watersheds in the mid-Atlantic region of US, which are grouped into small (<500 km2) and large (>500 km2) watersheds. NWS archival MQPEs over 1997–2013 for this region are adjusted to match concurrent gauge-based monthly precipitation accumulations. Then raw and adjusted MQPEs serve as inputs to the NWS distributed hydrologic model-threshold frequency framework (DHM-TF). Two experiments via DHM-TF are performed. The first one examines the impacts of adjustment alone through uncalibrated model simulations, whereas the second one focuses on the compound effects of adjustment and calibration on the detection of flood events. Uncalibrated model simulations show broad underestimation of flood peaks for small watersheds and overestimation those for large watersheds. Prior to calibration, adjustment alone tends to reduce the magnitude of simulated flood peaks for small and large basins alike, with 95% of all watersheds experienced decline over 2004–2013. A consequence is that a majority of small watersheds experience no improvement, or deterioration in bias (0% of basins experiencing improvement). By contrast, most (73%) of larger ones exhibit improved bias. Outcomes of the detection experiment show that the role of adjustment is not diminished by calibration for small watersheds, with only 25% of which exhibiting reduced bias after adjustment with calibrated parameters. Furthermore, it is shown that calibration is relatively effective in reducing false alarms (e.g., false alarm rate is down from 0.28 to 0.19 after calibration for small watersheds with calibrated parameters); but its impacts on detection rate are mixed. As an example, the detection rate of 2-Y events in fact declines for small watersheds after calibration is performed (from 0.4 to 0.28, and from 0.28 to 0.19 with raw and adjusted MQPE, respectively). These mixed outcomes underscore the complex interplays between errors in MQPEs, conditional bias in the reference gauge-based analysis, and structural deficiencies of the hydrologic model.
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    Journal of Hydrology, 541, 387-400
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    Accepted Manuscript
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