Dependence on initial conditions versus model formulations for mediumrange forecast error variations

Publication Year


Journal Article

Understanding the root causes of forecast errors and occasional very poor forecasts is essential but difficult. In this paper we investigate the relative importance of initial conditions and model formulation for medium‐range errors in 500 hPa geopotential height. The question is addressed by comparing forecasts produced with ECMWF‐IFS and NCEP‐GFS forecasting systems, and with the GFDL‐fvGFS model initialized with the ECMWF and NCEP initial conditions. This gives two pairs of configurations that use the same initial conditions but different models, and one pair with the same model but different initial conditions. The first conclusion is that the initial conditions play the major role in differences between the configurations in terms of the average root‐mean‐square error for both Northern and Southern Hemispheres as well as Europe and the contiguous US (CONUS), while the model dominates the systematic errors. A similar conclusion is also found by verifying precipitation over low latitudes and the CONUS. The day‐to‐day variations of 500 hPa geopotential height scores are exemplified by one case of a forecast bust over Europe, where the error is found to be dominated by initial errors. The results are generalized by calculating correlations between errors integrated over Europe, CONUS and a region in the southeastern Pacific from the different configurations. For Europe and southeast Pacific, the correlations in the medium range are highest between the pairs that use the same initial conditions, while over CONUS they are highest for the pair with the same model. This suggests different mechanisms behind the day‐to‐day variability of the score for these regions. Over CONUS the link is made to the propagation of troughs over the Rockies, and the result suggests that the large differences in parametrizations of orographic drag between the models play a role.

Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society
Date Published
July 2019
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