The Impact of Soil Moisture Initialization on Seasonal Precipitation and Temperature Forecasts

Randal D. Koster



The potential role of soil moisture initialization in seasonal forecasting is illustrated through ensembles of simulations with the NASA Seasonal-to-Interannual Prediction Project (NSIPP) model. For each boreal summer during 1997-2001, we generated two 16-member ensembles of 3-month simulations. The first, ``AMIP-style'' ensemble establishes the degree to which a perfect prediction of SSTs would contribute to the seasonal prediction of precipitation and temperature over continents. The second ensemble is identical to the first, except that the land surface is also initialized with ``realistic'' soil moisture contents through the continuous prior application (within GCM simulations leading up to the start of the forecast period) of a daily observational precipitation data set. A comparison of the two ensembles shows that soil moisture initialization has a statistically significant impact on summertime precipitation and temperature over only a handful of continental regions. These regions agree, to first order, with regions that satisfy three conditions: (1) a tendency toward large initial soil moisture anomalies, (2) a strong sensitivity of evaporation to soil moisture, and (3) a strong sensitivity of precipitation to evaporation. The degree to which the initialization improves forecasts relative to observations is mixed, reflecting a critical need for the continued development of model parameterizations and data analysis strategies.