Incorporating multiyear temperature predictions for water resources planning

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Towler, E., and Yates, D. (2021). 'Incorporating multiyear temperature predictions for water resources planning. Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology, 60(2), 171–183.


Multiyear climate predictions provide climate outlooks from years to a decade in advance. As multiyear temperature predictions become more mainstream and skillful, guidance is needed to assist practitioners who wish to explore this maturing field. This paper demonstrates the process and considerations of incorporating multiyear temperature predictions into water resources planning. Multiyear temperature predictions from the Community Earth System Model Decadal Prediction Large Ensemble are presented as discrete and probabilistic products and are used to force two common hydrologic modeling approaches: conceptual and empirical. The approaches are demonstrated to simulate streamflow in the upper Colorado River basin watershed in Colorado, where diagnostics show that increasing temperatures are associated with decreasing streamflows. Using temperature information for lead years 2–6, two analyses are performed: (i) a retrospective hindcast for the climatological period (1981–2010) and (ii) a blind forecast for 2011–15. For the retrospective hindcast, including temperature information improved the percent error as compared with climatology. For the blind forecast, the multiyear temperature prediction for warming was skillful, but the corresponding multiyear average streamflow predictions from both approaches were counterintuitive: with the predicted warming, the multiyear average streamflow was predicted to be lower than the climatological mean; however, the observed multiyear average streamflow was higher than the climatological mean. This was due to above-average precipitation during the prediction time frame, particularly for one of the years. With that year removed, the multiyear streamflow average became lower than the climatological mean. Temperature provides a marginal source of streamflow predictability, but there will be substantial uncertainty until prediction skill for year-to-year climate variability, especially for precipitation, increases.

Plain-language summary: Multi-year predictions (2-6 years) of Upper Basin temperature from a climate model call for more warming over time, reflecting the overall warming trend. Incorporating retrospective temperature predictions into retrospective multi-year Upper Basin streamflow forecasts slightly improved those streamflow forecasts vs. assuming historical-average conditions.