Long range streamflow forecasting using El Nino-Southern Oscillation indicators

Document Type



Hydrologists and water resource planners in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States are under pressure from competing water users to make long-range forecasts of streamflow. At present, long-range streamfow forecasts are not offered. Yet in the Pacific Northwest, a significant lag relationship exists between (El Niño–Southern Oscillation) and streamflow. Using this lag relationship, this study proposes to extend the prediction of spring-summer runoff in the Pacific Northwest from the current 1- to 3-month lead time to a 3- to 7-month lead time. This study looks at the Columbia River Basin, where testing is being conducted on a long-range seasonal streamflow forecasting model that uses, as predictors, persistence in streamflow along with two El Niño–Southern Oscillation indicators: the Southern Oscillation Index and the Wright sea surface temperatures. A probabilistic streamflow forecast is made form an optimal linear combination of persistence, Southern Oscillation Index linear discriminant analysis and Wright sea surface temperature linear discriminant analysis forecasts. This final combination forecast is referred to as a “consensus forecast.” This consensus forecast model is tested on data covering the period 1933–1992 from seven of the Columbia River Basin streamflow stations. Data on an additional station, Columbia River at The Dalles, cover a period from 1911 to 1992. It was found that, at some stations, a 3- to 7-month lead time forecast of spring-summer runoff had better skill than climatology.


Climate | Environmental Sciences | Fresh Water Studies | Meteorology


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Piechota, T. and Dracup, J. (1999). ”Long-Range Streamflow Forecasting Using El Niño-Southern Oscillation Indicators.” J. Hydrol. Eng., 4(2), 144–151. doi: 10.1061/(ASCE)1084-0699(1999)4:2(144)