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Evaluation of Daily Precipitation from the ERA5 Global Reanalysis against GHCN Observations in the Northeastern United States

Precipitation is a primary input for hydrologic, agricultural, and engineering models, so making accurate estimates of it across the landscape is critically important. While the distribution of in-situ measurements of precipitation can lead to challenges in spatial interpolation, gridded precipitation information is designed to produce a full coverage product. In this study, we compare daily precipitation accumulations from the ERA5 Global Reanalysis (hereafter ERA5) and the US Global Historical Climate Network (hereafter GHCN) across the northeastern United States. We find that both the distance from the Atlantic Coast and elevation difference between ERA5 estimates and GHCN observations affect precipitation relationships between the two datasets. ERA5 has less precipitation along the coast than GHCN observations but more precipitation inland. Elevation differences between ERA5 and GHCN observations are positively correlated with precipitation differences. Isolated GHCN stations on mountain peaks, with elevations well above the ERA5 model grid elevation, have much higher precipitation. Summer months (June, July, and August) have slightly less precipitation in ERA5 than GHCN observations, perhaps due to the ERA5 convective parameterization scheme. The heavy precipitation accumulation above the 90th, 95th, and 99th percentile thresholds are very similar for ERA5 and the GHCN. We find that daily precipitation in the ERA5 dataset is comparable to GHCN observations in the northeastern United States and its gridded spatial continuity has advantages over in-situ point precipitation measurements for regional modeling applications.


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Crossett, C.A., A.K. Betts, L-A. L. Dupigny-Giroux, A. Bomblies (2020) Evaluation of Daily Precipitation from the ERA5 Global Reanalysis Against GHCN Observations in the Northeastern United States. Climate 2020, 8, 148. https://doi.org/10.3390/cli8120148