Representing radar rainfall uncertainty with ensembles based on a time-variant geostatistical error modelling approach

Francesca Cecinati, Miguel Angel Rico-Ramirez, Gerard B.M. Heuvelink, Dawei Han

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Citations (SciVal)


The application of radar quantitative precipitation estimation (QPE) to hydrology and water quality models can be preferred to interpolated rainfall point measurements because of the wide coverage that radars can provide, together with a good spatio-temporal resolutions. Nonetheless, it is often limited by the proneness of radar QPE to a multitude of errors. Although radar errors have been widely studied and techniques have been developed to correct most of them, residual errors are still intrinsic in radar QPE. An estimation of uncertainty of radar QPE and an assessment of uncertainty propagation in modelling applications is important to quantify the relative importance of the uncertainty associated to radar rainfall input in the overall modelling uncertainty. A suitable tool for this purpose is the generation of radar rainfall ensembles. An ensemble is the representation of the rainfall field and its uncertainty through a collection of possible alternative rainfall fields, produced according to the observed errors, their spatial characteristics, and their probability distribution. The errors are derived from a comparison between radar QPE and ground point measurements. The novelty of the proposed ensemble generator is that it is based on a geostatistical approach that assures a fast and robust generation of synthetic error fields, based on the time-variant characteristics of errors. The method is developed to meet the requirement of operational applications to large datasets. The method is applied to a case study in Northern England, using the UK Met Office NIMROD radar composites at 1 km resolution and at 1 h accumulation on an area of 180 km by 180 km. The errors are estimated using a network of 199 tipping bucket rain gauges from the Environment Agency. 183 of the rain gauges are used for the error modelling, while 16 are kept apart for validation. The validation is done by comparing the radar rainfall ensemble with the values recorded by the validation rain gauges. The validated ensemble is then tested on a hydrological case study, to show the advantage of probabilistic rainfall for uncertainty propagation. The ensemble spread only partially captures the mismatch between the modelled and the observed flow. The residual uncertainty can be attributed to other sources of uncertainty, in particular to model structural uncertainty, parameter identification uncertainty, uncertainty in other inputs, and uncertainty in the observed flow.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)391-405
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Hydrology
Early online date2 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2017


  • Conditional simulations
  • Radar ensemble
  • Radar QPE error model
  • Rainfall uncertainty propagation
  • Time-variant variograms

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Water Science and Technology


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