Scientists at Google-owned London AI lab DeepMind and the University of Exeter have developed a ‘precipitation nowcasting’ system.
The AI makes predictions based on the previous 20 minutes of high-resolution radar data. It then forecasts medium to heavy rainfall for next 90 minutes.
Today’s weather forecasts are largely driven by powerful numerical weather prediction (NWP) systems which use mathematical equations to estimate the chances of rain and other types of weather based on the movement of fluids in the atmosphere.
Speaking on the current methods, Suman Ravuri, a staff research scientist at DeepMind in London and co-lead of the project, said: “These models are really amazing from six hours up to about two weeks in terms of weather prediction, but there is area – especially around zero to two hours – in which the models perform particularly poorly.”
DeepMind’s tool was evaluated alongside two existing rain prediction tools by more than 50 Met Office meteorologists, who ranked it first for accuracy and usefulness in 88% of cases.
The research, published in the journal Nature, found: “Meteorologists significantly preferred the [AI] approach to competing methods.”
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DeepMind senior scientist Shakir Mohamed said: “It’s very early days but this trial shows that AI could be a powerful tool, enabling forecasters to spend less time trawling through ever growing piles of prediction data and instead focus on better understanding the implications of their forecasts.
“This will be integral for mitigating the adverse effects of climate change today, supporting adaptation to changing weather patterns and potentially saving lives.”
Niall Robinson, the head of partnerships and product innovation at the Met Office, said: “Extreme weather has catastrophic consequences including loss of life and, as the effects of climate change suggest, these types of events are set to become more common.
“As such, better short-term weather forecasts can help people stay safe and thrive. This research demonstrates the potential AI may offer as a powerful tool for improving our short-term forecasts and our understanding of how our weather patterns are evolving.”
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