A technique for model initialization using three-dimensional radar reflectivity data has been developed and applied within the NOAA 13-km Rapid Refresh (RAP) and 3-km High-Resolution Rapid Refresh (HRRR) regional forecast systems. This technique enabled the first assimilation of radar reflectivity data for operational NOAA forecast models, critical especially for more accurate short-range prediction of convective storms. For the RAP, the technique uses a diabatic digital filter initialization (DFI) procedure originally deployed to control initial inertial-gravity wave noise. Within the forward-model integration portion of diabatic DFI, temperature tendencies obtained from the model cloud/precipitation processes are replaced by specified latent-heating-based temperature tendencies derived from the three-dimensional radar reflectivity data, where available. To further refine initial conditions for the convection-allowing HRRR model, a similar procedure is used in the HRRR, but without DFI. Both of these procedures, together called the ‘Radar-LHI’ (latent-heating initialization) technique, have been essential for initialization of ongoing precipitation systems, especially convective systems, within all NOAA operational versions of the 13-km RAP and 3-km HRRR models extending through the latest implementation upgrade at NCEP in 2020. Application of the latent-heat-derived temperature tendency induces a vertical circulation with low-level convergence and upper-level divergence in precipitation systems. Retrospective tests of the Radar-LHI technique show significant improvement in short-range (0-6 hour) precipitation system forecasts, as revealed by reflectivity verification scores. Results presented document the impact on HRRR reflectivity forecasts of the radar reflectivity initialization technique applied to the RAP alone, HRRR alone, and both the RAP and HRRR.
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