A Generalized Spatio-Temporal Threshold Clustering Method for Identification of Extreme Event Patterns

Seminar - RAL Seminar Series
Apr. 21, 2021

1:00 – 2:00 pm MDT

Main content

Extreme weather and climate events such as floods, droughts, and heat waves can cause extensive societal damages. While various statistical and climate models have been developed for the purpose of simulating extremes, a consistent definition of extreme events is still lacking. Furthermore, to better assess the performance of the climate models, a variety of spatial forecast verification measures have been developed. However, in most cases, the spatial verification measures that are widely used to compare mean states do not have sufficient theoretical justification to benchmark extreme events. In order to alleviate inconsistencies when defining extreme events within different scientific communities, we propose a new generalized Spatio-Temporal Threshold Clustering method for the identification of extreme event episodes, which uses machine learning techniques to couple existing pattern recognition indices with high or low threshold choices. The method consists of five main steps: 1) construction of essential field quantities; 2) dimension reduction; 3) spatial domain mapping; 4) time series clustering; and 5) threshold selection. We develop and apply this method using a gridded daily precipitation dataset derived from rain gauge stations over the contiguous United States. We observe changes in the distribution of conditional frequency of extreme precipitation from large-scale well-connected spatial patterns to smaller-scale more isolated rainfall clusters, possibly leading to more localized droughts and heatwaves especially during the summer months. The proposed method automates the threshold selection process through a clustering algorithm and can be directly applicable in conjunction with modeling and
spatial forecast verification of extremes. Additionally, it allows for the identification of synoptic-scale spatial patterns that can be directly traced to the individual extreme episodes, and it offers users the flexibility to select an extreme threshold that is linked to the desired geometrical properties. The approach can be applied to broad scientific disciplines.

Vitaly Kholodovsky, University of Maryland