Raindrop size distributions and radar reflectivity-rain rate relationships for radar hydrology

Remko Uijlenhoet*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

116 Citations (Scopus)


The conversion of the radar reflectivity factor Z (mm6m-3) to rain rate R (mm h-1) is a crucial step in the hydrological application of weather radar measurements. It has been common practice for over 50 years now to take for this conversion a simple power law relationship between Z and R. It is the purpose of this paper to explain that the fundamental reason for the existence of such power law relationships is the fact that Z and R are related to each other via the raindrop size distribution. To this end, the concept of the raindrop size distribution is first explained. Then, it is demonstrated that there exist two fundamentally different forms of the raindrop size distribution, one corresponding to raindrops present in a volume of air and another corresponding to those arriving at a surface. It is explained how Z and R are defined in terms of both these forms. Using the classical exponential raindrop size distribution as an example, it is demonstrated (1) that the definitions of Z and R naturally lead to power law Z-R relationships, and (2) how the coefficients of such relationships are related to the parameters of the raindrop size distribution. Numerous empirical Z-R relationships are analysed to demonstrate that there exist systematic differences in the coefficients of these relationships and the corresponding parameters of the (exponential) raindrop size distribution between different types of rainfall. Finally, six consistent Z-R relationships are derived, based upon different assumptions regarding the rain rate dependence of the parameters of the (exponential) raindrop size distribution. An appendix shows that these relationships are in fact special cases of a general Z-R relationship that follows from a recently proposed scaling framework for describing raindrop size distributions and their properties.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)615-627
Number of pages13
JournalHydrology and Earth System Sciences
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes


  • Radar hydrology
  • Radar reflectivity-rain rate relationship
  • Raindrop size distribution


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