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Simulating precipitation and temperature in the Lake Champlain basin using a regional climate model: limitations and uncertainties


The Lake Champlain Basin has socioeconomic and ecological significance for the Northeastern United States and Quebec, Canada. Temperatures and extreme precipitation events have been increasing across this region over the past three decades. Accurate, high-resolution climate simulations are critical to assessing potential climate change risk in the Lake Champlain Basin. We evaluate the performance of a regional climate model, the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model, to downscale ERA-Interim reanalysis data to 4 km for the Lake Champlain Basin. Specifically, we compare an ensemble of five WRF experiments with different physics configurations using a one-way, triple-nested domain (36, 12, and 4 km) over three 5-year periods (1980–1984, 1995–1999, and 2010–2014) to Daymet, a gridded observational dataset. We find that WRF simulations of the Lake Champlain Basin generally reproduce the observed temperature and precipitation seasonal cycles, but have cold and wet biases. The simulation of mean temperature by WRF is most sensitive to the choice of radiation scheme, while the simulation of mean precipitation is most sensitive to the choice of radiation, cumulus, and microphysics scheme. We find that turning the cumulus scheme on improves the simulation of the precipitation seasonal cycle at a 4 km resolution, but also substantially enhances the wet bias. Using a coarser resolution (36 km) produces smaller regionally averaged precipitation biases, but not improved correlations between simulated and observed monthly precipitation. Both spatial resolution and turning the cumulus scheme off have minor effects on simulated temperature.

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This work is funded by the Vermont Established Program for Stimulating Competitive Research (NSF Award OIA 1556770). We thank the WRF Help team and Dartmouth Research Computing for their support configuring and running the WRF simulations. Finally, we appreciate the thoughtful feedback of our editor and reviewers.

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Correspondence to Huanping Huang.

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Huang, H., Winter, J.M., Osterberg, E.C. et al. Simulating precipitation and temperature in the Lake Champlain basin using a regional climate model: limitations and uncertainties. Clim Dyn 54, 69–84 (2020).

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  • Regional climate modeling
  • WRF
  • Model evaluation
  • Extreme events
  • Lake Champlain Basin
  • Physics parameterization