EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Extended-range predictability of stratospheric extreme events using explainable neural networks

Zheng Wu1, Tom Beucler2, and Daniela Domeisen1,2
Zheng Wu et al.
  • 1Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science, ETH Zürich, Zurich, Switzerland
  • 2Institute of Earth Surface Dynamics, University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland

Extreme stratospheric events such as extremely weak vortex events and strong vortex events can influence weather in the troposphere from weeks to months and thus are important sources of predictability of tropospheric weather on subseasonal to seasonal (S2S) timescales. However, the predictability of weak vortex events is limited to 1-2 weeks in state-of-the-art forecasting systems, while strong vortex events are more predictable than weak vortex events. Longer predictability timescales of the stratospheric extreme events would benefit long-range surface weather prediction. Recent studies showed promising results in the use of machine learning for improving weather prediction. The goal of this study is to explore the potential of a machine learning approach in extending the predictability of stratospheric extreme events in S2S timescales. We use neural networks (NNs) to predict the monthly stratospheric polar vortex strength with lead times up to five months using the first five principal components (PCs) of the sea surface temperature (SST), mean sea level pressure (MSLP), Barents–Kara sea-ice concentration (BK-SIC), poleward heat flux at 100 hPa, and zonal wind at 50, 30, and 2 hPa as precursors. These physical variables are chosen as they are indicated as potential precursors for the stratospheric extremes in previous studies. The results show that the accuracy and Brier Skill Score decrease with longer lead times and the performance is similar between weak and strong vortex events. We then employ two different NN attribution methods to uncover feature importance (heat map) in the inputs for the NNs, which indicates the relevance of each input for NNs to make the prediction. The heat maps suggest that precursors from the lower stratosphere are important for the prediction of the stratospheric polar vortex strength with a lead time of one month while the precursors at the surface and the upper stratosphere become more important with lead times longer than one month. This result is overall consistent with the previous studies that subseasonal precursors to the stratospheric extreme events may come from the lower troposphere. Our study sheds light on the potential of explainable NNs in searching for opportunities for skillful prediction of stratospheric extreme events and, by extension, surface weather on S2S timescales.

How to cite: Wu, Z., Beucler, T., and Domeisen, D.: Extended-range predictability of stratospheric extreme events using explainable neural networks, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-10568,, 2023.