The Error is the Feature: how to Forecast Lightning using a Model Prediction Error
Despite the progress within the last decades, weather forecasting is still a challenging and computationally expensive task. Current satellite-based approaches to predict thunderstorms are usually based on the analysis of the observed brightness temperatures in different spectral channels and emit a warning if a critical threshold is reached. Recent progress in data science however demonstrates that machine learning can be successfully applied to many research fields in science, especially in areas dealing with large datasets. We therefore present a new approach to the problem of predicting thunderstorms based on machine learning. The core idea of our work is to use the error of two-dimensional optical flow algorithms applied to images of meteorological satellites as a feature for machine learning models. We interpret that optical flow error as an indication of convection potentially leading to thunderstorms and lightning. To factor in spatial proximity we use various manual convolution steps. We also consider effects such as the time of day or the geographic location. We train different tree classifier models as well as a neural network to predict lightning within the next few hours (called nowcasting in meteorology) based on these features. In our evaluation section we compare the predictive power of the different models and the impact of different features on the classification result. Our results show a high accuracy of 96% for predictions over the next 15 minutes which slightly decreases with increasing forecast period but still remains above 83% for forecasts of up to five hours. The high false positive rate of nearly 6% however needs further investigation to allow for an operational use of our approach.
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