This study assesses streamflow predictions generated by two distributed hydrologic models, the Hillslope Link Model (HLM) and the National Water Model (NWM), driven by three radar-based precipitation forcing datasets. These forcing data include the Multi-Radar Multi-Sensor (MRMS), and the Iowa Flood Center's single-polarization-based (IFC-SP) and dual-polarization-based (IFC-DP) products. To examine forcing-and model-dependent aspects of the representation of hydrologic processes, we mixed and matched all forcing data and models, and simulated streamflow for 2016–18 based on six forcing–model combinations. The forcing product evaluation using independent ground reference data showed that the IFC-DP radar-only product's accuracy is comparable to MRMS, which is rain gauge corrected. Streamflow evaluation at 140 U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) stations in Iowa demonstrated that the HLM tended to perform slightly better than the NWM, generating streamflow with smaller volume errors and higher predictive power as measured by Kling–Gupta efficiency (KGE). The authors also inspected the effect of estimation errors in the forcing products on streamflow generation and found that MRMS's slight underestimation bias led to streamflow underestimation for all simulation years, particularly with the NWM. The less biased product (IFC-DP), which has higher error variability, resulted in increased runoff volumes with larger dispersion of errors compared to the ones derived from MRMS. Despite its tendency to underestimate, MRMS showed consistent performance with lower error variability as reflected by the KGE. The dispersion observed from the evaluation metrics (e.g., volume error and KGE) seems to decrease as scale becomes larger, implying that random errors in forcing are likely to average out at larger-scale basins. The evaluation of simulated peaks revealed that an accurate estimation of peak (e.g., time and magnitude) remains challenging, as demonstrated by the highly scattered distribution of peak errors for both hydrologic models.


Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering

Publication Status

Full Access


National Center for Atmospheric Research, Grant None

Keywords and Phrases

Hydrologic models; Model comparison; Model evaluation/performance

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

1525-7541; 1525-755X

Document Type

Article - Journal

Document Version

Final Version

File Type





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Publication Date

01 Sep 2021