Climatic Change

, Volume 15, Issue 3, pp 383–422

A regional climate model for the western United States


  • Robert E. Dickinson
    • National Center for Atmospheric Research
  • Ronald M. Errico
    • National Center for Atmospheric Research
  • Filippo Giorgi
    • National Center for Atmospheric Research
  • Gary T. Bates
    • National Center for Atmospheric Research

DOI: 10.1007/BF00240465

Cite this article as:
Dickinson, R.E., Errico, R.M., Giorgi, F. et al. Climatic Change (1989) 15: 383. doi:10.1007/BF00240465


A numerical approach to modeling climate on a regional scale is developed whereby large-scale weather systems are simulated with a global climate model (GCM) and the GCM output is used to provide the boundary conditions needed for high-resolution mesoscale model simulations over the region of interest. In our example, we use the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) community climate model (CCM1) and the Pennsylvania State University (PSU)/NCAR Mesoscale Model version 4 (MM4) to apply this approach over the western United States (U.S.). The topography, as resolved by the 500-km mesh of the CCM1, is necessarily highly distorted, but with the 60-km mesh of the MM4 the major mountain ranges are distinguished. To obtain adequate and consistent representations of surface climate, we use the same radiation and land surface treatments in both models, the latter being the recently developed Biosphere-Atmosphere Transfer Scheme (BATS). Our analysis emphasizes the simulation at four CCM1 points surrounding Yucca Mountain, NV, because of the need to determine its climatology prior to certification as a high-level nuclear waste repository.

We simulate global climate for three years with CCM1/BATS and describe the resulting January surface climatology over the western U.S. The details of the precipitation patterns are unrealistic because of the smooth topography. Selecting five January CCM1 storms that occur over the western U.S. with a total duration of 20 days for simulation with the MM4, we demonstrate that the mesoscale model provides much improved wintertime precipitation patterns. The storms in MM4 are individually much more realistic than those in CCM1. A simple averaging procedure that infers a mean January rainfall climatology calculated from the 20 days of MM4 simulation is much closer to the observed than is the CCM1 climatology. The soil moisture and subsurface drainage simulated over 3–5 day integration periods of MM4, however, remain strongly dependent on the initial CCM1 soil moisture and thus are less realistic than the rainfall. Adequate simulation of surface soil water may require integrations of the mesoscale model over time periods.

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1989