A Consensus Model for Seasonal Hurricane Prediction

Thomas H. Jagger Department of Geography, The Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida

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James B. Elsner Department of Geography, The Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida

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Abstract

The authors apply a procedure called Bayesian model averaging (BMA) for examining the utility of a set of covariates for predicting the distribution of U.S. hurricane counts and demonstrating a consensus model for seasonal prediction. Hurricane counts are derived from near-coastal tropical cyclones over the period 1866–2008. The covariate set consists of the May–October monthly averages of the Atlantic SST, North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) index, Southern Oscillation index (SOI), and sunspot number (SSN). BMA produces posterior probabilities indicating the likelihood of the model given the set of annual hurricane counts and covariates. The September SSN covariate appears most often in the higher-probability models. The sign of the September SSN parameter is negative indicating that the probability of a U.S. hurricane decreases with more sunspots. A consensus hindcast for the 2007 and 2008 season is made by averaging forecasts from a large subset of models weighted by their corresponding posterior probability. A cross-validation exercise confirms that BMA can provide more accurate forecasts compared to methods that select a single “best” model. More importantly, the BMA procedure incorporates more of the uncertainty associated with making a prediction of this year’s hurricane activity from data.

Corresponding author address: Thomas H. Jagger, Dept. of Geography, The Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL 32306. Email: tjagger@blarg.net

Abstract

The authors apply a procedure called Bayesian model averaging (BMA) for examining the utility of a set of covariates for predicting the distribution of U.S. hurricane counts and demonstrating a consensus model for seasonal prediction. Hurricane counts are derived from near-coastal tropical cyclones over the period 1866–2008. The covariate set consists of the May–October monthly averages of the Atlantic SST, North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) index, Southern Oscillation index (SOI), and sunspot number (SSN). BMA produces posterior probabilities indicating the likelihood of the model given the set of annual hurricane counts and covariates. The September SSN covariate appears most often in the higher-probability models. The sign of the September SSN parameter is negative indicating that the probability of a U.S. hurricane decreases with more sunspots. A consensus hindcast for the 2007 and 2008 season is made by averaging forecasts from a large subset of models weighted by their corresponding posterior probability. A cross-validation exercise confirms that BMA can provide more accurate forecasts compared to methods that select a single “best” model. More importantly, the BMA procedure incorporates more of the uncertainty associated with making a prediction of this year’s hurricane activity from data.

Corresponding author address: Thomas H. Jagger, Dept. of Geography, The Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL 32306. Email: tjagger@blarg.net

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