Global observations and forecast skill

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Bengtsson, Lennart ; Hodges, Kevin I. ; Froude, Lizzie S. R. (2005)

The impact of selected observing systems on forecast skill is explored using the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) 40-yr reanalysis (ERA-40) system. Analyses have been produced for a surface-based observing system typical of the period prior to 1945/1950, a terrestrial-based observing system typical of the period 1950–1979 and a satellite-based observing system consisting of surface pressure and satellite observations. Global prediction experiments have been undertaken using these analyses as initial states, and which are available every 6 h, for the boreal winters of 1990/1991 and 2000/2001 and the summer of 2000, using a more recent version of the ECMWF model. The results show that for 500-hPa geopotential height, as a representative field, the terrestrial system in the Northern Hemisphere extratropics is only slightly inferior to the control system, which makes use of all observations for the analysis, and is also more accurate than the satellite system. There are indications that the skill of the terrestrial system worsens slightly and the satellite system improves somewhat between 1990/1991 and 2000/2001. The forecast skill in the Southern Hemisphere is dominated by the satellite information and this dominance is larger in the latter period. The overall skill is only slightly worse than that of the Northern Hemisphere. In the tropics (20°S–20°N), using the wind at 850 and 250 hPa as representative fields, the information content in the terrestrial and satellite systems is almost equal and complementary. The surface-based system has very limited skill restricted to the lower troposphere of the Northern Hemisphere. Predictability calculations show a potential for a further increase in predictive skill of 1–2 d in the extratropics of both hemispheres, but a potential for a major improvement of many days in the tropics. As well as the Eulerian perspective of predictability, the storm tracks have been calculated from all experiments and validated for the extratropics to provide a Lagrangian perspective.
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