Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres

An evaluation of NEXRAD precipitation estimates in complex terrain


  • C. Bryan Young,

  • Brian R. Nelson,

  • A. Allen Bradley,

  • James A. Smith,

  • Christa D. Peters-Lidard,

  • Anton Kruger,

  • Mary Lynn Baeck


Next Generation Weather Radar (NEXRAD) precipitation estimates are used for hydrological, meteorological, and climatological studies at a wide range of spatial and temporal scales. The utility of radar-based precipitation estimates in such applications hinges on an understanding of the sources and magnitude of estimation error. This study examines precipitation estimation in the complex mountainous terrain of the northern Appalachian Mountains. Hourly digital precipitation (HDP) products for two WSR-88D radars in New York state are evaluated for a 2-year period. This analysis includes evaluation of range dependence and spatial distribution of estimates, radar intercomparisons for the overlap region, and radar-gage comparisons. The results indicate that there are unique challenges for radar-rainfall estimation in mountainous terrain. Beam blockage is a serious problem that is not corrected by existing NEXRAD algorithms. Underestimation and nondetection of precipitation are also significant concerns. Improved algorithms are needed for merging estimates from multiple radars with spatially variable biases.