Satellite Estimation of Falling Snow: A Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory Perspective

J Appl Meteorol Climatol. 2019 Jul;58(7):1429-1448. doi: 10.1175/JAMC-D-18-0124.1. Epub 2019 Jun 24.


Retrievals of falling snow from space-based observations represent key inputs for understanding and linking Earth's atmospheric, hydrological, and energy cycles. This work quantifies and investigates causes of differences among the first stable falling snow retrieval products from the Global precipitation Measurement (GPM) Core Observatory satellite and CloudSat's Cloud Profiling Radar (CPR) falling snow product. An important part of this analysis details the challenges associated with comparing the various GPM and CloudSat snow estimates arising from different snow-rain classification methods, orbits, resolutions, sampling, instrument specifications, and algorithm assumptions. After equalizing snow-rain classification methodologies and limiting latitudinal extent, CPR observes nearly 10 (3) times the occurrence (accumulation) of falling snow as GPM's Dual-Frequency Precipitation Radar (DPR). The occurrence disparity is substantially reduced if CloudSat pixels are averaged to simulate DPR radar pixels and CPR observations are truncated below the 8-dBZ reflectivity threshold. However, even though the truncated CPR- and DPR-based data have similar falling snow occurrences, average snowfall rate from the truncated CPR record remains significantly higher (43%) than the DPR, indicating that retrieval assumptions (microphysics and snow scattering properties) are quite different. Diagnostic reflectivity (Z)-snow rate (S) relationships were therefore developed at Ku and W band using the same snow scattering properties and particle size distributions in a final effort to minimize algorithm differences. CPR-DPR snowfall amount differences were reduced to ~16% after adopting this diagnostic Z-S approach.