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Chiem van Straaten
Kirien Whan
Dim Coumou
Bart van den Hurk
, and
Maurice Schmeits


Reliable subseasonal forecasts of high summer temperatures would be very valuable for society. Although state-of-the-art numerical weather prediction (NWP) models have become much better in representing the relevant sources of predictability like land and sea surface states, the subseasonal potential is not fully realized. Complexities arise because drivers depend on the state of other drivers and on interactions over multiple time scales. This study applies statistical modeling to ERA5 data, and explores how nine potential drivers, interacting on eight time scales, contribute to the subseasonal predictability of high summer temperatures in western and central Europe. Features and target temperatures are extracted with two variations of hierarchical clustering, and are fitted with a machine learning (ML) model based on random forests. Explainable AI methods show that the ML model agrees with physical understanding. Verification of the forecasts reveals that a large part of predictability comes from climate change, but that reliable and valuable subseasonal forecasts are possible in certain windows, like forecasting monthly warm anomalies with a lead time of 15 days. Contributions of each driver confirm that there is a transfer of predictability from the land and sea surface state to the atmosphere. The involved time scales depend on lead time and the forecast target. The explainable AI methods also reveal surprising driving features in sea surface temperature and 850 hPa temperature, and rank the contribution of snow cover above that of sea ice. Overall, this study demonstrates that complex statistical models, when made explainable, can complement research with NWP models, by diagnosing drivers that need further understanding and a correct numerical representation, for better future forecasts.

Open access