Initialization methods are needed for geophysical components of Earth system prediction models. These methods are needed from medium-range to decadal predictions and also for short-range Earth system forecasts in support of safety (e.g., severe weather), economic (e.g., energy), and other applications. Strongly coupled land–atmosphere data assimilation (SCDA), producing balanced initial conditions across the land–atmosphere components, has not yet been introduced to operational numerical weather prediction (NWP) systems. Most NWP systems have evolved separate data assimilation (DA) procedures for the atmosphere versus land/snow system components. This separated method has been classified as a weakly coupled DA system (WCDA). In the NOAA operational short-range weather models, a moderately coupled land–snow–atmosphere assimilation method (MCLDA) has been implemented, a step forward from WCDA toward SCDA. The atmosphere and land (including snow) variables are both updated within the DA using the same set of observations (aircraft, radiosonde, satellite radiances, surface, etc.). Using this assimilation method, land surface state variables have cycled continuously for 6 years since 2015 for the 3-km NOAA HRRR model and with CONUS cycling since 1997. Month-long experiments were conducted with and without MCLDA for both winter and summer seasons using the 13-km Rapid Refresh model with atmosphere (50 levels), soil (9 levels), and snow (up to 2 layers if present) on the same horizontal grid. Improvements were evident for 2-m temperature for all times of day out to 6–12 h for both seasons but stronger in winter. Better temperature forecasts were also shown in the 1000–900-hPa layer corresponding roughly to the boundary layer. Significance Statement Accuracy of weather models depends on accurate initial conditions for soil temperature and moisture as well as for the atmosphere itself. This paper describes a moderately coupled data assimilation method that modifies soil conditions based on forecast error corrections indicated by atmospheric observations. This method has been tested for a month-long period in summer and winter and shown to consistently improve short-range forecasts of 2-m temperature and moisture. This coupled data assimilation method is used already in NOAA operational short-range models to improve its prediction skill for clouds, convective storms, and general weather conditions.
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