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Andrew E. Mercer, Alexandria D. Grimes, and Kimberly M. Wood


Tropical cyclone (TC) track forecasts have improved in recent decades while intensity forecasts, particularly predictions of rapid intensification (RI), continue to show low skill. Many statistical methods have shown promise in predicting RI using environmental fields, although these methods rely heavily upon supervised learning techniques such as classification. Advances in unsupervised learning techniques, particularly those that integrate nonlinearity into the class separation problem, can improve discrimination ability for difficult tasks such as RI prediction. This study quantifies separability between RI and non-RI environments for 2004–16 Atlantic Ocean TCs using an unsupervised learning method that blends principal component analysis with k-means cluster analysis. Input fields consisted of TC-centered 1° Global Forecast System analysis (GFSA) grids (170 different variables and isobaric levels) for 3605 TC samples and five domain sizes. Results are directly compared with separability offered by operational RI forecast predictors for eight RI definitions. The unsupervised learning procedure produced improved separability over operational predictors for all eight RI definitions, five of which showed statistically significant improvement. Composites from these best-separating GFSA fields highlighted the importance of mid- and upper-level relative humidity in identifying the onset of short-term RI, whereas long-term, higher-magnitude RI was generally associated with weaker absolute vorticity. Other useful predictors included optimal thermodynamic RI ingredients along the mean trajectory of the TC. The results suggest that the orientation of a more favorable thermodynamic environment relative to the TC and midlevel vorticity magnitudes could be useful predictors for RI.

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Kyle A. Hilburn, Imme Ebert-Uphoff, and Steven D. Miller


The objective of this research is to develop techniques for assimilating GOES-R series observations in precipitating scenes for the purpose of improving short-term convective-scale forecasts of high-impact weather hazards. Whereas one approach is radiance assimilation, the information content of GOES-R radiances from its Advanced Baseline Imager saturates in precipitating scenes, and radiance assimilation does not make use of lightning observations from the GOES Lightning Mapper. Here, a convolutional neural network (CNN) is developed to transform GOES-R radiances and lightning into synthetic radar reflectivity fields to make use of existing radar assimilation techniques. We find that the ability of CNNs to utilize spatial context is essential for this application and offers breakthrough improvement in skill compared to traditional pixel-by-pixel based approaches. To understand the improved performance, we use a novel analysis method that combines several techniques, each providing different insights into the network’s reasoning. Channel-withholding experiments and spatial information–withholding experiments are used to show that the CNN achieves skill at high reflectivity values from the information content in radiance gradients and the presence of lightning. The attribution method, layerwise relevance propagation, demonstrates that the CNN uses radiance and lightning information synergistically, where lightning helps the CNN focus on which neighboring locations are most important. Synthetic inputs are used to quantify the sensitivity to radiance gradients, showing that sharper gradients produce a stronger response in predicted reflectivity. Lightning observations are found to be uniquely valuable for their ability to pinpoint locations of strong radar echoes.

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Christina Kumler-Bonfanti, Jebb Stewart, David Hall, and Mark Govett


Extracting valuable information from large sets of diverse meteorological data is a time-intensive process. Machine-learning methods can help to improve both speed and accuracy of this process. Specifically, deep-learning image-segmentation models using the U-Net structure perform faster and can identify areas that are missed by more restrictive approaches, such as expert hand-labeling and a priori heuristic methods. This paper discusses four different state-of-the-art U-Net models designed for detection of tropical and extratropical cyclone regions of interest (ROI) from two separate input sources: total precipitable water output from the Global Forecast System (GFS) model and water vapor radiance images from the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES). These models are referred to as International Best Track Archive for Climate Stewardship (IBTrACS)-GFS, Heuristic-GFS, IBTrACS-GOES, and Heuristic-GOES. All four U-Nets are fast information extraction tools and perform with an ROI detection accuracy ranging from 80% to 99%. These are additionally evaluated with the Dice and Tversky intersection-over-union (IoU) metrics, having Dice coefficient scores ranging from 0.51 to 0.76 and Tversky coefficients ranging from 0.56 to 0.74. The extratropical cyclone U-Net model performed 3 times as fast as the comparable heuristic model used to detect the same ROI. The U-Nets were specifically selected for their capabilities in detecting cyclone ROI beyond the scope of the training labels. These machine-learning models identified more ambiguous and active ROI missed by the heuristic model and hand-labeling methods that are commonly used in generating real-time weather alerts, having a potentially direct impact on public safety.

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