Climatology of the terrestrial seasonal water cycle

Cort J. Willmott, Clinton M. Rowe, Yale Mintz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

399 Scopus citations


Calculations of the spatial and seasonal variations of the continental fields of snow‐cover, soil moisture and evapotranspiration are presented and interpreted. The calculations were made with a water budget analysis that is based on observed average monthly precipitation and an estimate of potential evapotranspiration derived from observed average monthly surface temperature, using a modified version of the method of Thornthwaite. Monthly average water budget analyses were made for 13,332 stations over the globe and, then spatially interpolated to a regular grid at 1° by 1° latitude‐longitude intervals. From the monthly fields on a 4° by 5° subset of the 1° by 1° grid, the annual mean and standard deviation as well as the first and second annual harmonics were extracted and are displayed on global maps. Of the three fields, soil moisture has the largest space‐time variation; snow‐cover the smallest variation; and evapotranspiration an intermediate level of variation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)589-606
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Climatology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1985
Externally publishedYes


  • Evapotranspiration
  • Snow‐cover
  • Soil moisture
  • Water balance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Environmental Science
  • Atmospheric Science
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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