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Characterization of the error associated with satellite rainfall estimates is a necessary component of deterministic and probabilistic frameworks involving spaceborne passive and active microwave measurements for applications ranging from water budget studies to forecasting natural hazards related to extreme rainfall events. The authors focus here on the error structure of NASA's Tropical Rainfall Measurement Mission (TRMM) Precipitation Radar (PR) quantitative precipitation estimation (QPE) at ground. The problem is addressed by comparison of PR QPEs with reference values derived from ground-based measurements using NOAA/NSSL ground radar based National Mosaic and QPE system (NMQ/Q2). A preliminary investigation of this subject has been carried out at the PR estimation scale (instantaneous and 5 km) using a 3-month data sample in the southern part of the United States. The primary contribution of this study is the presentation of the detailed steps required to derive a trustworthy reference rainfall dataset from Q2 at the PR pixel resolution. It relies on a bias correction and a radar quality index, both of which provide a basis to filter out the less trustworthy Q2 values. Several aspects of PR errors are revealed and quantified including sensitivity to the processing steps with the reference rainfall, comparisons of rainfall delectability and rainfall-rate distributions, spatial representativeness of error, and separation of systematic biases and random errors. The methodology and framework developed herein applies more generally to rainfall-rate estimates from other sensors on board low-earth-orbiting satellites such as microwave imagers and dual-wavelength radars such as with the Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission.


This article was originally published in Journal of Hydrometeorology, volume number, issue number, in year. DOI: 10.1175/JHM-D-11-0139.1


American Meteorological Society



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