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Ignacio Lopez-Gomez
Amy McGovern
Shreya Agrawal
, and
Jason Hickey


Heatwaves are projected to increase in frequency and severity with global warming. Improved warning systems would help reduce the associated loss of lives, wildfires, power disruptions, and reduction in crop yields. In this work, we explore the potential for deep learning systems trained on historical data to forecast extreme heat on short, medium and subseasonal time scales. To this purpose, we train a set of neural weather models (NWMs) with convolutional architectures to forecast surface temperature anomalies globally, 1 to 28 days ahead, at ∼200-km resolution and on the cubed sphere. The NWMs are trained using the ERA5 reanalysis product and a set of candidate loss functions, including the mean-square error and exponential losses targeting extremes. We find that training models to minimize custom losses tailored to emphasize extremes leads to significant skill improvements in the heatwave prediction task, relative to NWMs trained on the mean-square-error loss. This improvement is accomplished with almost no skill reduction in the general temperature prediction task, and it can be efficiently realized through transfer learning, by retraining NWMs with the custom losses for a few epochs. In addition, we find that the use of a symmetric exponential loss reduces the smoothing of NWM forecasts with lead time. Our best NWM is able to outperform persistence in a regressive sense for all lead times and temperature anomaly thresholds considered, and shows positive regressive skill relative to the ECMWF subseasonal-to-seasonal control forecast after 2 weeks.

Significance Statement

Heatwaves are projected to become stronger and more frequent as a result of global warming. Accurate forecasting of these events would enable the implementation of effective mitigation strategies. Here we analyze the forecast accuracy of artificial intelligence systems trained on historical surface temperature data to predict extreme heat events globally, 1 to 28 days ahead. We find that artificial intelligence systems trained to focus on extreme temperatures are significantly more accurate at predicting heatwaves than systems trained to minimize errors in surface temperatures and remain equally skillful at predicting moderate temperatures. Furthermore, the extreme-focused systems compete with state-of-the-art physics-based forecast systems in the subseasonal range, while incurring a much lower computational cost.

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