Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some commonly-asked questions and their answers. Another source of information is the VIC Users Listserve. If you join this listserve, you can post questions to the vic user community.

  1. Does VIC and/or the routing model run on Windows or MacOS?

    The VIC model and the routing model have been developed for use on linux and unix platforms and as such it will run perfectly fine under OS X. On OS X, you may need to install some additional libraries such as NetCDF. For that you can use any of the OS X package managers such as MacPorts, Homebrew, or Fink.

    To use VIC and/or the routing model on a Windows platform, we suggest downloading a free UNIX emulator such as Cygwin or Docker and compiling/running these models within this emulator. Please do not ask us for help with installing or using Cygwin.


    We do not have the resources to test or support running VIC or routing model on any non-*nix platforms. If you encounter problems while running VIC and/or the routing model on Windows or any other non-*nix environment, we will not be able to offer you support. If you do think you have found a bug in VIC while running on a non-*nix platform, please replicate the error on a *nix system before reporting it.

  2. Is VIC available in Fortran?

    No. VIC is written and maintained in C. However, the CESM driver includes Fortran bindings using the ISO_C_BINDING standard. If you are looking to use VIC in conjunction with Fortran, the CESM driver source code would be a good place to start.

  3. Is it possible to make the VIC 5 Classic Driver mimic the behavior of VIC 4.2?

    Yes. You will need to account for some structural changes that were made between VIC 4.2 and VIC 5. These include the following:

    • In VIC 4.2, constants were hard-coded throughout the model. To simplify this, constants in VIC 5 are shared between drivers and defined in the initialize_parameters.c file. All values for emissivity in VIC 5 are set to 0.97, with the exception of water, which is set to 0.98. In VIC 4.2, all emissivity values were set to 1.0, with the exception of ice and water, which were set to 0.97 and 0.98, respectively. To deal with these differences, we have provided a text file as part of the science tests, vic_parameters_42_compat.txt, that can be used to run VIC 5.0 with the same constants as were used in VIC 4.2. In the global parameter file, you must add an additional option called CONSTANTS and specify the path to the constants file vic_parameters_42_compat.txt.

    • The runoff timestep in VIC 4.2 was always hourly, regardless of the model timestep. However, this has changed in VIC 5. As a result, the RUNOFF_STEPS_PER_DAY option in the global parameter file must be set to 24, e.g. RUNOFF_STEPS_PER_DAY = 24.

    • In VIC 4.2, the wind measurement height over bare soil is defined within the source code as 10m. In VIC 5, it is defined in the global parameter file as the option WIND_H. Thus for the classic driver to behave like VIC 4.2, WIND_H in the global parameter file must be set to 10, e.g. WIND_H = 10.

  4. What are the hardware requirements for VIC? Do they take advantage of parallel processing / can they run in a multi-threaded environment?

    As described above, VIC is designed to run on any linux or unix system. VIC is capable of being run on a laptop or on large distributed super-computers.


    • The Classic Driver code is not explicitly written for parallel processing. Nevertheless, its design will allow you to implement a "poor man's parallelization". Because VIC simulates each grid cell independently of the others, you can break up your study domain into separate sub-domains (these could be sub-basins or simply any arbitrary grouping of grid cells) and simulate each of these sub-domains separately, in parallel (on different nodes of a cluster, for example). Dividing the domain into sub-domains and combining them again later should be fairly easy, since VIC's input forcings and output results are organized into one file per grid cell. All you need to do is create separate soil parameter files, one for each sub-domain (these can even be copies of the original whole-domain soil parameter file, with the appropriate grid cells given a "1" as the first value and all other grid cells given a "0"). You will also need to create separate global parameter files. These would all be identical save for the soil parameter file that they point to. Of course the routing model must access all grid cells in a single run, but it runs very quickly in comparison to the VIC run.
    • The Image and CESM Drivers utilize a the MPI standard for parallelization. This allows VIC to be efficiently run on larger clusters and super-computers. For information on how to run the VIC Image Driver in parallel, see the "how to run VIC page".

    Memory Requirements

    • The Classic Driver is not very memory-intensive, since it only stores the state of a single grid cell in memory at a given time.
    • The memory usage of the Image and CESM Drivers scales with the number of grid cells on each processor.
  5. Are there any Matlab tools written for analyzing and/or plotting VIC results?

    Not that we know of. We generally use python to do our analysis. Check the VIC Users Listserve.

  6. How can I save VIC's screen output in a file?

    The Classic and Image drivers both include the option to write the runtime logs to file. To use this option, set the LOG_DIR variable in your global parameter file.

  7. VIC reports that the energy balance failed to converge in snow_intercept, calc_atmos_energy_bal, calc_surf_energy_bal, or solve_T_profile - what can I do?

    Failures to converge can arise for a number of reasons. Causes can include bad input parameters or forcings, poor choice of model timestep length, and instability of the model equations themselves. Here are some steps to take:

    1. Check your input parameters and meteorological forcings - are they reasonable for this grid cell? Are they in the correct format?
    2. Check your model time step or snow step - does the problem disappear if you reduce the time step length?
    3. If your inputs are reasonable, consider setting TFALLBACK to TRUE in the global parameter file. Now, the simulation will continue using the previous time step's temperature value. The number of instances in which the previous step's T value was used will be reported at the end of each grid cell's simulation. In addition, several output variables are available to monitor when these instances occurred: OUT_TFOL_FBFLAG, OUT_TCAN_FBFLAG, OUT_SURFT_FBFLAG, OUT_SOILT_FBFLAG.
    4. If you use the TFALLBACK option, make sure to output the various temperatures simulated by the model (OUT_TFOLIAGE, OUT_TCANOPY, OUT_SURFT, OUT_SOILT) and check that these values look reasonable. In some cases, convergence failures occur long after the model has ventured into unphysical behavior, and using the previous time step's T value simply preserves these unphysical temperatures.
    5. Check if these behaviors are a known issue under investigation. If you do not see the issue listed, please create an issue on Github and tell us about the issue.
  8. Why does actual evapotranspiration (ET) sometimes exceed potential evapotranspiration (PET)?

    VIC's actual evapotranspiration is the sum of canopy evaporation, transpiration, soil evaporation, canopy snow sublimation, and ground snow sublimation, averaged over the grid cell. VIC's OUT_PET (release 5.0 onwards; OUT_PET_NATVEG for releases 4.1-4.2) computes PET as the ET that the current landscape (with its current vegetation, architectural resistance, and LAI) would produce in the absence of limitations from soil moisture, vapor pressure deficit, temperature, or insolation. But VIC's canopy evaporation and sublimation are computed using a canopy resistance of 0, which allows for much higher ET rates than when architectural resistance and LAI are taken into account. Thus, when there is water stored in the canopy, actual ET can exceed OUT_PET. This generally happens during a small fraction of the time of a simulation (immediately following rain events, for example).

  9. I want to output a variable, but I don't see it listed in the output variable list. What should I do?

    VIC allows users to select which output variables to write to their output files. Variables that can be selected are listed here as well as in the VIC source code file vic_driver_shared.h (listed as OUT_*). However, not all variables that VIC simulates are available for output. And of course if you are changing VIC's physics, any new variables you add are also not available for output (yet). In either of these cases, please see the instructions on how to add a new output variable to VIC.

  10. What is VIC's time-stepping scheme?

    VIC uses a fixed time-stepping scheme. The global parameter option MODEL_STEPS_PER_DAY controls the base timestep of the model. There are two sub-timestep options, RUNOFF_STEPS_PER_DAY and SNOW_STEPS_PER_DAY, that control the timestep of the runoff and snow routines. When run in water balance mode, the relationship between these parameters must be: MODEL_STEPS_PER_DAY >= SNOW_STEPS_PER_DAY >= RUNOFF_STEPS_PER_DAY. When run in full energy mode, the relationship between these parameters must be: MODEL_STEPS_PER_DAY = SNOW_STEPS_PER_DAY >= RUNOFF_STEPS_PER_DAY. In all cases, the following constraints are placed on the allowable values for these options:

    • sub-timesteps must be divisible into MODEL_STEPS_PER_DAY
    • meteorological forcings must be provided at the snow model timestep (set via SNOW_STEPS_PER_DAY)

    Time-stamps in VIC are "period-beginning" and therefore meteorological forcings in VIC should also be period-beginning. For example, for an hourly VIC simulation beginning at 1979-01-01 00:00:00, the first forcings for the timestep should represent the period between 1979-01-01 00:00:00 and 1979-01-01 01:00:00. Time-stamps in the VIC history files are also period-beginning.