Climate Dynamics

, Volume 52, Issue 5–6, pp 3609–3629 | Cite as

WRF downscaling improves ERA-Interim representation of precipitation around a tropical Andean valley during El Niño: implications for GCM-scale simulation of precipitation over complex terrain

  • José A. Posada-MarínEmail author
  • Angela M. Rendón
  • Juan F. Salazar
  • John F. Mejía
  • Juan Camilo Villegas


Precipitation in the tropical Andes is strongly influenced by the ENSO phases and orographic effects. In particular, precipitation can be drastically reduced during El Niño. Decision-making about water resources relies on modelling precipitation as the main source for water availability. Here we evaluate ERA-Interim´s capacity to represent precipitation in the mountainous central Colombian Andes, a strategic region for water supply and hydropower generation, for different phases of ENSO during 1998–2012. Our results show that ERA-Interim fails to reproduce important features of precipitation spatial and temporal variability during different ENSO phases. Most critical in these results is how ERA-Interim overestimates precipitation during the dry season in El Niño years, which corresponds to the most critical condition for water supply. We show that ERA-Interim limitations are likely related to its simplified representation of the complex topography in the region, which excludes the inter-Andean Cauca river valley. To improve this, we implement a dynamical downscaling experiment using the WRF regional climate model, including a sensitivity analysis that considers three convective parameterization schemes and a convection-permitting simulation. WRF downscaling outperforms ERA-Interim in the representation of precipitation during the dry season of El Niño years, especially through correcting positive precipitation biases. This improvement is related to a better representation of orographic effects in WRF simulations. Our results suggest that ERA-Interim and, more generally, climate simulations with comparable coarse resolutions, may produce misleading precipitation overestimations in the tropical Andes if they do not adequately represent inter-Andean valleys, with important implications for water resources management.


WRF model El Niño Precipitation ERA-Interim Dynamical downscaling Tropical Andes 



Funding was provided by “Programa de investigación en la gestión de riesgo asociado con cambio climático y ambiental en cuencas hidrográficas” (UT-GRA), Convocatoria 543–2011 Colciencias. JFS was partially supported by the IAI-INPE Internship program: “Understanding Climate Change and Variability in the Americas”. JFM was partially supported by the Desert Research Institute/Division of Atmospheric Sciences and COLCIENCIAS (award No FP44842-856-2014).

Supplementary material

382_2018_4403_MOESM1_ESM.docx (7.8 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 8008 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • José A. Posada-Marín
    • 1
    Email author
  • Angela M. Rendón
    • 1
  • Juan F. Salazar
    • 1
  • John F. Mejía
    • 2
  • Juan Camilo Villegas
    • 1
  1. 1.Grupo de Ingeniería y Gestión Ambiental (GIGA), Escuela Ambiental, Facultad de IngenieríaUniversidad de AntioquiaMedellínColombia
  2. 2.Department of Atmospheric SciencesDesert Research InstituteRenoUSA

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