• hydrological predictability;
  • soil moisture;
  • runoff;
  • forecast;
  • skill;
  • memory

[1] Hydrological forecasts constitute an important tool in water resource management, especially in the case of impending extreme events. This study investigates the potential predictability of soil moisture and streamflow in Switzerland using a conceptual model including a simple water balance representation and a snow module. Our results show that simulated soil moisture and streamflow are more predictable (as indicated by significantly improved performance compared to climatology) until lead times of approximately 1 week and 2–3 days, respectively, when using initial soil moisture information and climatological atmospheric forcing. Using also initial snow information and seasonal weather forecasts as forcing, the predictable lead time doubles in case of soil moisture and triples for streamflow. The skill contributions of the additional information vary with altitude; at low altitudes the precipitation forecast is most important, whereas in mountainous areas the temperature forecast and the initial snow information are the most valuable contributors. We find furthermore that the soil moisture and streamflow forecast skills increase with increasing initial soil moisture anomalies. Comparing the respective value of realistic initial conditions and state-of-the-art forcing forecasts, we show that the former are generally more important for soil moisture forecasts, whereas the latter are more valuable for streamflow forecasts. To relate the derived predictabilities to respective soil moisture and streamflow memories investigated in other publications, we additionally illustrate the similarity between the concepts of memory and predictability as measures of persistence in the last part of this study.