Many if not most national operational short-to-medium range streamflow prediction systems rely on a forecaster-in-the-loop approach in which some parts of the forecast workflow are automated, but others require the hands-on-effort of an experienced human forecaster. This approach evolved out of the need to correct for deficiencies in the models and datasets that were available for forecasting, and often leads to skillful predictions despite the use of relatively simple, conceptual models. On the other hand, the process is not reproducible, which limits opportunities to assess and incorporate process variations, and the effort required to make forecasts in this way is an obstacle to expanding forecast services – e.g., though adding new forecast locations or more frequent forecast updates, running more complex models, or producing forecast ensembles and hindcasts that can support verification. In the last decade, the hydrologic forecasting community has begun develop more centralized, ‘over-the-loop’ systems. The quality of these new forecast products will depend on their ability to leverage research in areas including earth system modeling, parameter estimation, data assimilation, statistical post-processing, weather and climate prediction, verification, and uncertainty estimation through the use of ensembles.
Currently, the operational streamflow forecasting and water management communities have little experience with the strengths and weaknesses of over-the-loop approaches, even as the systems are being rolled out in major operational forecasting centers. There is thus a need both to evaluate these forecasting advances and to demonstrate their potential in a public arena, raising awareness in forecast user communities and development programs alike. To address this need, the National Center for Atmospheric Research is collaborating with the University of Washington, the Bureau of Reclamation and the US Army Corps of Engineers, using the NCAR ‘System for Hydromet Analysis Research and Prediction Applications’ (SHARP) to implement, assess and demonstrate real-time over-the-loop forecasts. We present early hindcast and verification results from SHARP for short to medium range streamflow forecasts in a number of US case study watersheds.