Using joint probability distribution functions to evaluate simulations of precipitation, cloud fraction and insolation in the North America Regional Climate Change Assessment Program (NARCCAP)
This study evaluates model fidelity in simulating relationships between seasonally averaged precipitation, cloud fraction and surface insolation from the North American Regional Climate Change Assessment Project (NARCCAP) hindcast using observational data from ground stations and satellites. Model fidelity is measured in terms of the temporal correlation coefficients between these three variables and the similarity between the observed and simulated joint probability distribution functions (JPDFs) in 14 subregions over the conterminous United States. Observations exhibit strong negative correlations between precipitation/cloud fraction and surface insolation for all seasons, whereas the relationship between precipitation and cloud fraction varies according to regions and seasons. The skill in capturing these observed relationships varies widely among the NARCCAP regional climate models, especially in the Midwest and Southeast coast regions where observations show weak (or even negative) correlations between precipitation and cloud fraction in winter due to frequent non-precipitating stratiform clouds. Quantitative comparison of univariate and JPDFs indicates that model performance varies markedly between regions as well as seasons. This study also shows that comparison of JPDFs is useful for summarizing the performance of and highlighting problems with some models in simulating cloud fraction and surface insolation. Our quantitative metric may be useful in improving climate models by highlighting shortcomings in the formulations related with the physical processes involved in precipitation, clouds and radiation or other multivariate processes in the climate system.