Scientists make breakthrough in monsoon rain forecasting with machine learning

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Every year, from June to September, a very important event happens that affects more than a billion people in South Asia.

This event is the monsoon season, a time when it rains a lot. During these months, the rain doesn’t fall steadily.

Instead, it comes in waves. There might be a week where it rains every day, adding up to 1 to 4 inches of water.

Then, there might be a week with hardly any rain at all. Knowing in advance when these rainy and dry periods will happen is super important.

Farmers rely on this information to decide the best times to plant and harvest their crops. City officials use it to prepare for floods and keep people safe.

However, predicting the weather, especially the rain during the monsoon season, has always been a tough job.

Weather forecasts are pretty good at telling us what will happen tomorrow or the day after. But telling us what the weather will be like a week or a month from now? That’s a whole different story.

But here’s some exciting news: researchers have made a big step forward in forecasting the monsoon rains. They’ve come up with a new way to predict when and how much it will rain 10 to 30 days ahead of time.

This new method uses something called machine learning, which is a type of artificial intelligence. It’s a big improvement over the old way of making predictions, which used computer simulations based on the physics of air movement.

Understanding the monsoon is crucial not just for local weather forecasting but also for understanding the global climate.

The team behind this breakthrough was led by Eviatar Bach, a scientist working with other experts in environmental science and engineering. They published their findings in a respected science journal.

Eviatar Bach points out that this research is especially important because of climate change. Changes in our climate could make monsoons and other weather events like hurricanes and heatwaves more unpredictable.

Getting better at forecasting weather in the short term can help us prepare for these changes.

Weather prediction is hard because the atmosphere is very complex. It’s constantly moving and changing due to the heat from the sun and the rotation of the Earth. This makes the weather system chaotic and unpredictable beyond a certain point.

Typically, the farthest ahead we can predict big weather patterns accurately is about 10 days. Trying to forecast the weather for longer periods, like two weeks to several months, has always been a challenge.

The monsoon season in South Asia is characterized by cycles of heavy rain followed by dry spells. These cycles are known as monsoon intraseasonal oscillations (MISOs).

By adding a machine-learning component to their forecasts, Bach and his team were able to better understand and predict these MISOs.

This approach significantly improved the accuracy of their rainfall predictions on the challenging two-to-four-week timescale, increasing the reliability of their forecasts by up to 70%.

This research shows the potential of combining traditional methods with modern technology like machine learning to forecast the weather more accurately.

It’s a promising step forward in our ability to predict and prepare for the challenges of the monsoon season and the impacts of climate change on our weather.

The research findings can be found in PNAS.

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