Random Forest Model to Assess Predictor Importance and Nowcast Severe Storms using High-Resolution Radar–GOES Satellite–Lightning Observations

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  • 1 Atmospheric Science Department, University of Alabama in Huntsville, Huntsville, Alabama
  • 2 Science Directorate, NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, Virginia
  • 3 School of Meteorology, University of Oklahoma, Norman, Oklahoma
  • 4 Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere, Colorado State Univ., Fort Collins, CO
  • 5 Earth Systems Science Center, Huntsville, Alabama
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Abstract

Few studies have assessed combined satellite, lightning, and radar databases to diagnose severe storm potential. The research goal here is to evaluate next-generation, 60-second update frequency geostationary satellite and lightning information with ground-based radar to isolate which variables, when used in concert, provide skillful discriminatory information for identifying severe (hail ≥2.5 cm in diameter, winds ≥25 m s–1, tornadoes) versus non-severe storms. The focus of this study is predicting severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings. A total of 2,004 storms in 2014–2015 were objectively tracked with 49 potential predictor fields related to May, daytime Great Plains convective storms. All storms occurred when 1-min Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES)–14 “super rapid scan” data were available. The study used three importance methods to assess predictor importance related to severe warnings, and random forests to provide a model and skill evaluation measuring the ability to predict severe storms. Three predictor importance methods show that GOES mesoscale atmospheric motion vector derived cloud-top divergence and above anvil cirrus plume presence provide the most satellite-based discriminatory power for diagnosing severe warnings. Other important fields include Earth Networks Total Lightning flash density, GOES estimated cloud-top vorticity, and overshooting-top presence. Severe warning predictions are significantly improved at the 95% confidence level when a few important satellite and lightning fields are combined with radar fields, versus when only radar data are used in the random forests model. This study provides a basis for including satellite and lightning fields within machine-learning models to help forecast severe weather.

Corresponding Author: John R. Mecikalski, Atmospheric Science Department, University of Alabama in Huntsville, National Space Science and Technology Center, 320 Sparkman Drive, Huntsville, AL 35805–1912. E–mail: johnm@nsstc.uah.edu, Phone: (256) 961–7046

Abstract

Few studies have assessed combined satellite, lightning, and radar databases to diagnose severe storm potential. The research goal here is to evaluate next-generation, 60-second update frequency geostationary satellite and lightning information with ground-based radar to isolate which variables, when used in concert, provide skillful discriminatory information for identifying severe (hail ≥2.5 cm in diameter, winds ≥25 m s–1, tornadoes) versus non-severe storms. The focus of this study is predicting severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings. A total of 2,004 storms in 2014–2015 were objectively tracked with 49 potential predictor fields related to May, daytime Great Plains convective storms. All storms occurred when 1-min Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES)–14 “super rapid scan” data were available. The study used three importance methods to assess predictor importance related to severe warnings, and random forests to provide a model and skill evaluation measuring the ability to predict severe storms. Three predictor importance methods show that GOES mesoscale atmospheric motion vector derived cloud-top divergence and above anvil cirrus plume presence provide the most satellite-based discriminatory power for diagnosing severe warnings. Other important fields include Earth Networks Total Lightning flash density, GOES estimated cloud-top vorticity, and overshooting-top presence. Severe warning predictions are significantly improved at the 95% confidence level when a few important satellite and lightning fields are combined with radar fields, versus when only radar data are used in the random forests model. This study provides a basis for including satellite and lightning fields within machine-learning models to help forecast severe weather.

Corresponding Author: John R. Mecikalski, Atmospheric Science Department, University of Alabama in Huntsville, National Space Science and Technology Center, 320 Sparkman Drive, Huntsville, AL 35805–1912. E–mail: johnm@nsstc.uah.edu, Phone: (256) 961–7046
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