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Scientific Investigations Report 2012-5120

National Water-Quality Assessment Program

Comparison of TOPMODEL Streamflow Simulations Using NEXRAD-Based and Measured Rainfall Data, McTier Creek Watershed, South Carolina

By Toby D. Feaster, Nancy E. Westcott, Robert J.M. Hudson, Paul A. Conrads, and Paul M. Bradley

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (2.77 MB)Abstract

Rainfall is an important forcing function in most watershed models. As part of a previous investigation to assess interactions among hydrologic, geochemical, and ecological processes that affect fish-tissue mercury concentrations in the Edisto River Basin, the topography-based hydrological model (TOPMODEL) was applied in the McTier Creek watershed in Aiken County, South Carolina. Measured rainfall data from six National Weather Service (NWS) Cooperative (COOP) stations surrounding the McTier Creek watershed were used to calibrate the McTier Creek TOPMODEL. Since the 1990s, the next generation weather radar (NEXRAD) has provided rainfall estimates at a finer spatial and temporal resolution than the NWS COOP network. For this investigation, NEXRAD-based rainfall data were generated at the NWS COOP stations and compared with measured rainfall data for the period June 13, 2007, to September 30, 2009. Likewise, these NEXRAD-based rainfall data were used with TOPMODEL to simulate streamflow in the McTier Creek watershed and then compared with the simulations made using measured rainfall data. NEXRAD-based rainfall data for non-zero rainfall days were lower than measured rainfall data at all six NWS COOP locations. The total number of concurrent days for which both measured and NEXRAD-based data were available at the COOP stations ranged from 501 to 833, the number of non-zero days ranged from 139 to 209, and the total difference in rainfall ranged from –1.3 to –21.6 inches.

With the calibrated TOPMODEL, simulations using NEXRAD-based rainfall data and those using measured rainfall data produce similar results with respect to matching the timing and shape of the hydrographs. Comparison of the bias, which is the mean of the residuals between observed and simulated streamflow, however, reveals that simulations using NEXRAD-based rainfall tended to underpredict streamflow overall. Given that the total NEXRAD-based rainfall data for the simulation period is lower than the total measured rainfall at the NWS COOP locations, this bias would be expected. Therefore, to better assess the use of NEXRAD-based rainfall estimates as compared to NWS COOP rainfall data on the hydrologic simulations, TOPMODEL was recalibrated and updated simulations were made using the NEXRAD-based rainfall data. Comparisons of observed and simulated streamflow show that the TOPMODEL results using measured rainfall data and NEXRAD-based rainfall are comparable. Nonetheless, TOPMODEL simulations using NEXRAD-based rainfall still tended to underpredict total streamflow volume, although the magnitude of differences were similar to the simulations using measured rainfall.

The McTier Creek watershed was subdivided into 12 subwatersheds and NEXRAD-based rainfall data were generated for each subwatershed. Simulations of streamflow were generated for each subwatershed using NEXRAD-based rainfall and compared with subwatershed simulations using measured rainfall data, which unlike the NEXRAD-based rainfall were the same data for all subwatersheds (derived from a weighted average of the six NWS COOP stations surrounding the basin). For the two simulations, subwatershed streamflow were summed and compared to streamflow simulations at two U.S. Geological Survey streamgages. The percentage differences at the gage near Monetta, South Carolina, were the same for simulations using measured rainfall data and NEXRAD-based rainfall. At the gage near New Holland, South Carolina, the percentage differences using the NEXRAD-based rainfall were twice as much as those using the measured rainfall. Single-mass curve comparisons showed an increase in the total volume of rainfall from north to south. Similar comparisons of the measured rainfall at the NWS COOP stations showed similar percentage differences, but the NEXRAD-based rainfall variations occurred over a much smaller distance than the measured rainfall. Nonetheless, it was concluded that in some cases, using NEXRAD-based rainfall data in TOPMODEL streamflow simulations may provide an effective alternative to using measured rainfall data. For this investigation, however, TOPMODEL streamflow simulations using NEXRAD-based rainfall data for both calibration and simulations did not show significant improvements with respect to matching observed streamflow over simulations generated using measured rainfall data.

First posted August 17, 2012

For additional information contact:
Toby Feaster, Hydrologist
USGS South Carolina Water Science Center
Clemson Field Office
405 College Ave., Suite 200
Clemson, SC 29631

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Suggested citation:

Feaster, T.D., Westcott, N.E., Hudson, R.J.M., Conrads, P.A., and Bradley P.M., 2012, Comparison of TOPMODEL streamflow simulations using NEXRAD-based and measured rainfall data, McTier Creek watershed, South Carolina: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2012–5120, 33 p., available only at





Rainfall Data Comparisons

TOPMODEL Application

TOPMODEL Streamflow Simulations

Summary and Conclusions

References Cited

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