A machine learning method based on spatial convolution to capture complex spatial precipitation patterns is proposed to identify and reduce biases affecting predictions of a dynamical model. The method is based on a combination of a classification and dual-regression model approach using modified U-Net convolutional neural networks (CNN) to postprocess daily accumulated precipitation over the U.S. West Coast. In this study, we leverage 34 years of high-resolution deterministic Western Weather Research and Forecasting (West-WRF) precipitation reforecasts as training data for the U-Net CNN. The data are split such that the test set contains 4 water years of data that encompass characteristic West Coast precipitation regimes: El Niño, La Niña, and dry and wet El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO neutral) water years. On the unseen 4-yr dataset, the trained CNN yields a 12.9%–15.9% reduction in root-mean-square error (RMSE) and 2.7%–3.4% improvement in Pearson correlation (PC) over West-WRF for lead times of 1–4 days. Compared to an adapted model output statistics correction, the CNN reduces RMSE by 7.4%–8.9% and improves PC by 3.3%–4.2% across all events. Effectively, the CNN adds more than a day of predictive skill when compared to West-WRF. The CNN outperforms the other methods also for the prediction of extreme events, which we define as the top 10% of events with the greatest average daily accumulated precipitation. The improvement over West-WRF’s RMSE (PC) for these events is 19.8%–21.0% (4.9%–5.5%) and MOS’s RMSE (PC) is 8.8%–9.7% (4.2%–4.7%). Hence, the proposed U-Net CNN shows significantly improved forecast skill over existing methods, highlighting a promising path forward for improving precipitation forecasts.
Extreme precipitation events and atmospheric rivers, which contain narrow bands of water vapor transport, can cause millions of dollars in damages. We demonstrate the utility of a computer vision-based machine learning technique for improving precipitation forecasts. We show that there is a significant increase in predictive accuracy for daily accumulated precipitation using these machine learning methods, over a 4-yr period of unseen cases, including those corresponding to the extreme precipitation associated with atmospheric rivers.
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