Comparison of Convective Parameters Derived from ERA5 and MERRA-2 with Rawinsonde Data over Europe and North America

Mateusz Taszarek, Natalia Pilguj, John T. Allen, Victor Gensini, Harold E. Brooks, Piotr Szuster

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Scopus citations


In this study we compared 3.7 million rawinsonde observations from 232 stations over Europe and North America with proximal vertical profiles from ERA5 and MERRA-2 to examine how well reanalysis depicts observed convective parameters. Larger differences between soundings and reanalysis are found for thermodynamic theoretical parcel parameters, low-level lapse rates, and low-level wind shear. In contrast, reanalysis best represents temperature and moisture variables, midtropospheric lapse rates, and mean wind. Both reanalyses underestimate CAPE, low-level moisture, and wind shear, particularly when considering extreme values. Overestimation is observed for low-level lapse rates, midtropospheric moisture, and the level of free convection. Mixed-layer parcels have overall better accuracy when compared to most-unstable parcels, especially considering convective inhibition and lifted condensation level. Mean absolute error for both reanalyses has been steadily decreasing over the last 39 years for almost every analyzed variable. Compared to MERRA-2, ERA5 has higher correlations and lower mean absolute errors. MERRA-2 is typically drier and less unstable over central Europe and the Balkans, with the opposite pattern over western Russia. Both reanalyses underestimate CAPE and CIN over the Great Plains. Reanalyses are more reliable for lower elevation stations and struggle along boundaries such as coastal zones and mountains. Based on the results from this and prior studies we suggest that ERA5 is likely one of the most reliable available reanalyses for exploration of convective environments, mainly due to its improved resolution. For future studies we also recommend that computation of convective variables should use model levels that provide more accurate sampling of the boundary layer conditions compared to less numerous pressure levels.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3211-3237
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 1 2021


  • Climatology
  • Forecast verification/skill
  • Reanalysis data
  • Severe storms
  • Soundings
  • Thunderstorms


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