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John K. Williams and J. Vivekanandan

Abstract

Dual-wavelength ratio (DWR) techniques offer the prospect of producing high-resolution mapping of cloud microphysical properties, including retrievals of cloud liquid water content (LWC) from reflectivity measured by millimeter-wavelength radars. Unfortunately, noise and artifacts in the DWR require smoothing to obtain physically realistic values of LWC with a concomitant loss of resolution. Factors that cause inaccuracy in the retrieved LWC include uncertainty in gas and liquid water attenuation coefficients, Mie scattering due to large water droplets or ice particles, corruption of the radar reflectivities by noise and nonatmospheric returns, and artifacts due to mismatched radar illumination volumes. The error analysis presented here consists of both analytic and heuristic arguments; it is illustrated using data from the Mount Washington Icing Sensors Project (MWISP) and from an idealized simulation. In addition to offering insight into design considerations for a DWR system, some results suggest methods that may mitigate some of these sources of error for existing systems and datasets.

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David Ahijevych, James O. Pinto, John K. Williams, and Matthias Steiner

Abstract

A data mining and statistical learning method known as a random forest (RF) is employed to generate 2-h forecasts of the likelihood for initiation of mesoscale convective systems (MCS-I). The RF technique uses an ensemble of decision trees to relate a set of predictors [in this case radar reflectivity, satellite imagery, and numerical weather prediction (NWP) model diagnostics] to a predictand (in this case MCS-I). The RF showed a remarkable ability to detect MCS-I events. Over 99% of the 550 observed MCS-I events were detected to within 50 km. However, this high detection rate came with a tendency to issue false alarms either because of premature warning of an MCS-I event or in the continued elevation of RF forecast likelihoods well after an MCS-I event occurred. The skill of the RF forecasts was found to increase with the number of trees and the fraction of positive events used in the training set. The skill of the RF was also highly dependent on the types of predictor fields included in the training set and was notably better when a more recent training period was used. The RF offers advantages over high-resolution NWP because it can be run in a fraction of the time and can account for nonlinearly varying biases in the model data. In addition, as part of the training process, the RF ranks the importance of each predictor, which can be used to assess the utility of new datasets in the prediction of MCS-I.

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John R. Mecikalski, John K. Williams, Christopher P. Jewett, David Ahijevych, Anita LeRoy, and John R. Walker

Abstract

The Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES)-R convective initiation (CI) algorithm predicts CI in real time over the next 0–60 min. While GOES-R CI has been very successful in tracking nascent clouds and obtaining cloud-top growth and height characteristics relevant to CI in an object-tracking framework, its performance has been hindered by elevated false-alarm rates, and it has not optimally combined satellite observations with other valuable data sources. Presented here are two statistical learning approaches that incorporate numerical weather prediction (NWP) input within the established GOES-R CI framework to produce probabilistic forecasts: logistic regression (LR) and an artificial-intelligence approach known as random forest (RF). Both of these techniques are used to build models that are based on an extensive database of CI events and nonevents and are evaluated via cross validation and on independent case studies. With the proper choice of probability thresholds, both the LR and RF techniques incorporating NWP data produce substantially fewer false alarms than when only GOES data are used. The NWP information identifies environmental conditions (as favorable or unfavorable) for the development of convective storms and improves the skill of the CI nowcasts that operate on GOES-based cloud objects, as compared with when the satellite IR fields are used alone. The LR procedure performs slightly better overall when 14 skill measures are used to quantify the results and notably better on independent case study days.

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Todd P. Lane, Robert D. Sharman, Stanley B. Trier, Robert G. Fovell, and John K. Williams

Anyone who has flown in a commercial aircraft is familiar with turbulence. Unexpected encounters with turbulence pose a safety risk to airline passengers and crew, can occasionally damage aircraft, and indirectly increase the cost of air travel. Deep convective clouds are one of the most important sources of turbulence. Cloud-induced turbulence can occur both within clouds and in the surrounding clear air. Turbulence associated with but outside of clouds is of particular concern because it is more difficult to discern using standard hazard identification technologies (e.g., satellite and radar) and thus is often the source of unexpected turbulence encounters. Although operational guidelines for avoiding near-cloud turbulence exist, they are in many ways inadequate because they were developed before the governing dynamical processes were understood. Recently, there have been significant advances in the understanding of the dynamics of near-cloud turbulence. Using examples, this article demonstrates how these advances have stemmed from improved turbulence observing and reporting systems, the establishment of archives of turbulence encounters, detailed case studies, and high-resolution numerical simulations. Some of the important phenomena that have recently been identified as contributing to near-cloud turbulence include atmospheric wave breaking, unstable upper-level thunderstorm outflows, shearing instabilities, and cirrus cloud bands. The consequences of these phenomena for developing new en route turbulence avoidance guidelines and forecasting methods are discussed, along with outstanding research questions.

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David John Gagne II, Amy McGovern, Sue Ellen Haupt, Ryan A. Sobash, John K. Williams, and Ming Xue

Abstract

Forecasting severe hail accurately requires predicting how well atmospheric conditions support the development of thunderstorms, the growth of large hail, and the minimal loss of hail mass to melting before reaching the surface. Existing hail forecasting techniques incorporate information about these processes from proximity soundings and numerical weather prediction models, but they make many simplifying assumptions, are sensitive to differences in numerical model configuration, and are often not calibrated to observations. In this paper a storm-based probabilistic machine learning hail forecasting method is developed to overcome the deficiencies of existing methods. An object identification and tracking algorithm locates potential hailstorms in convection-allowing model output and gridded radar data. Forecast storms are matched with observed storms to determine hail occurrence and the parameters of the radar-estimated hail size distribution. The database of forecast storms contains information about storm properties and the conditions of the prestorm environment. Machine learning models are used to synthesize that information to predict the probability of a storm producing hail and the radar-estimated hail size distribution parameters for each forecast storm. Forecasts from the machine learning models are produced using two convection-allowing ensemble systems and the results are compared to other hail forecasting methods. The machine learning forecasts have a higher critical success index (CSI) at most probability thresholds and greater reliability for predicting both severe and significant hail.

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Sue Ellen Haupt, David John Gagne, William W. Hsieh, Vladimir Krasnopolsky, Amy McGovern, Caren Marzban, William Moninger, Valliappa Lakshmanan, Philippe Tissot, and John K. Williams

Abstract

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) have become important tools for environmental scientists and engineers, both in research and in applications. Although these methods have become quite popular in recent years, they are not new. The use of AI methods began in the 1950s and environmental scientists were adopting them by the 1980s. Although an “AI winter” temporarily slowed the growth, a more recent resurgence has brought it back with gusto. This paper tells the story of the evolution of AI in the field through the lens of the AMS Committee on Artificial Intelligence Applications to Environmental Science. The environmental sciences possess a host of problems amenable to advancement by intelligent techniques. We review a few of the early applications along with the ML methods of the time and how their progression has impacted these sciences. While AI methods have changed from expert systems in the 1980s to neural networks and other data-driven methods, and more recently deep learning, the environmental problems tackled have remained similar. We discuss the types of applications that have shown some of the biggest advances due to AI usage and how they have evolved over the past decades, including topics in weather forecasting, probabilistic prediction, climate estimation, optimization problems, image processing, and improving forecasting models. We finish with a look at where AI as employed in environmental science appears to be headed and some thoughts on how it might be best blended with physical/dynamical modeling approaches to further advance our science.

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Amy McGovern, Kimberly L. Elmore, David John Gagne II, Sue Ellen Haupt, Christopher D. Karstens, Ryan Lagerquist, Travis Smith, and John K. Williams

Abstract

High-impact weather events, such as severe thunderstorms, tornadoes, and hurricanes, cause significant disruptions to infrastructure, property loss, and even fatalities. High-impact events can also positively impact society, such as the impact on savings through renewable energy. Prediction of these events has improved substantially with greater observational capabilities, increased computing power, and better model physics, but there is still significant room for improvement. Artificial intelligence (AI) and data science technologies, specifically machine learning and data mining, bridge the gap between numerical model prediction and real-time guidance by improving accuracy. AI techniques also extract otherwise unavailable information from forecast models by fusing model output with observations to provide additional decision support for forecasters and users. In this work, we demonstrate that applying AI techniques along with a physical understanding of the environment can significantly improve the prediction skill for multiple types of high-impact weather. The AI approach is also a contribution to the growing field of computational sustainability. The authors specifically discuss the prediction of storm duration, severe wind, severe hail, precipitation classification, forecasting for renewable energy, and aviation turbulence. They also discuss how AI techniques can process “big data,” provide insights into high-impact weather phenomena, and improve our understanding of high-impact weather.

Open access
Sean P. Burns, Noah P. Molotch, Mark W. Williams, John F. Knowles, Brian Seok, Russell K. Monson, Andrew A. Turnipseed, and Peter D. Blanken

Abstract

Snowpack temperatures from a subalpine forest below Niwot Ridge, Colorado, are examined with respect to atmospheric conditions and the 30-min above-canopy and subcanopy eddy covariance fluxes of sensible Q h and latent Q e heat. In the lower snowpack, daily snow temperature changes greater than 1°C day−1 occurred about 1–2 times in late winter and early spring, which resulted in transitions to and from an isothermal snowpack. Though air temperature was a primary control on snowpack temperature, rapid snowpack warm-up events were sometimes preceded by strong downslope winds that kept the nighttime air (and canopy) temperature above freezing, thus increasing sensible heat and longwave radiative transfer from the canopy to the snowpack. There was an indication that water vapor condensation on the snow surface intensified the snowpack warm-up.

In late winter, subcanopy Q h was typically between −10 and 10 W m−2 and rarely had a magnitude larger than 20 W m−2. The direction of subcanopy Q h was closely related to the canopy temperature and only weakly dependent on the time of day. The daytime subcanopy Q h monthly frequency distribution was near normal, whereas the nighttime distribution was more peaked near zero with a large positive skewness. In contrast, above-canopy Q h was larger in magnitude (100–400 W m−2) and primarily warmed the forest–surface at night and cooled it during the day. Around midday, decoupling of subcanopy and above-canopy air led to an apparent cooling of the snow surface by sensible heat. Sources of uncertainty in the subcanopy eddy covariance flux measurements are suggested. Implications of the observed snowpack temperature changes for future climates are discussed.

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Amy McGovern, Ann Bostrom, Phillip Davis, Julie L. Demuth, Imme Ebert-Uphof, Ruoying He, Jason Hickey, David John Gagne II, Nathan Snook, Jebb Q. Stewart, Christopher Thorncroft, Philippe Tissot, and John K. Williams

Abstract

We introduce the National Science Foundation (NSF) AI Institute for Research on Trustworthy AI in Weather, Climate, and Coastal Oceanography (AI2ES). This AI institute was funded in 2020 as part of a new initiative from the NSF to advance foundational AI research across a wide variety of domains. To date AI2ES is the only NSF AI institute focusing on environmental science applications. Our institute focuses on developing trustworthy AI methods for weather, climate, and coastal hazards. The AI methods will revolutionize our understanding and prediction of high-impact atmospheric and ocean science phenomena and will be utilized by diverse, professional user groups to reduce risks to society. In addition, we are creating novel educational paths, including a new degree program at a community college serving underrepresented minorities, to improve workforce diversity for both AI and environmental science.

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Sid-Ahmed Boukabara, Vladimir Krasnopolsky, Stephen G. Penny, Jebb Q. Stewart, Amy McGovern, David Hall, John E. Ten Hoeve, Jason Hickey, Hung-Lung Allen Huang, John K. Williams, Kayo Ide, Philippe Tissot, Sue Ellen Haupt, Kenneth S. Casey, Nikunj Oza, Alan J. Geer, Eric S. Maddy, and Ross N. Hoffman

Abstract

Promising new opportunities to apply artificial intelligence (AI) to the Earth and environmental sciences are identified, informed by an overview of current efforts in the community. Community input was collected at the first National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) workshop on “Leveraging AI in the Exploitation of Satellite Earth Observations and Numerical Weather Prediction” held in April 2019. This workshop brought together over 400 scientists, program managers, and leaders from the public, academic, and private sectors in order to enable experts involved in the development and adaptation of AI tools and applications to meet and exchange experiences with NOAA experts. Paths are described to actualize the potential of AI to better exploit the massive volumes of environmental data from satellite and in situ sources that are critical for numerical weather prediction (NWP) and other Earth and environmental science applications. The main lessons communicated from community input via active workshop discussions and polling are reported. Finally, recommendations are presented for both scientists and decision-makers to address some of the challenges facing the adoption of AI across all Earth science.

Open access