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Access Type

Open Access Thesis

Document Type


Degree Program

Industrial Engineering & Operations Research

Degree Type

Master of Science (M.S.)

Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded



Recent advances in cloud-based big-data technologies now makes data driven solutions feasible for increasing numbers of scientific computing applications. One such data driven solution approach is machine learning where patterns in large data sets are brought to the surface by finding complex mathematical relationships within the data. Nowcasting or short-term prediction of rainfall in a given region is an important problem in meteorology. In this thesis we explore the nowcasting problem through a data driven approach by formulating it as a machine learning problem.

State-of-the-art nowcasting systems today are based on numerical models which describe the physical processes leading to precipitation or on weather radar extrapolation techniques that predict future radar precipitation maps by advecting from a sequence of past maps. These techniques, while they can perform well over very short prediction horizons (minutes) or very long horizons (hours to days), tend not to perform well over medium horizons (1-2 hours) due to lack of input data at the necessary spatial and temporal scales for the numerical prediction methods or due to the inability of radar extrapolation methods to predict storm growth and decay. Given that water must first concentrate in the atmosphere as water vapor before it can fall to the ground as rain, one goal of this thesis is to understand if water vapor information can improve radar extrapolation techniques by giving the information needed to infer growth and decay. To do so, we use the GPS-Meteorology technique to measure the water vapor in the atmosphere and weather radar reflectivity to measure rainfall. By training a machine learning nowcasting algorithm using both variables and comparing its performance against a nowcasting algorithm trained on reflectivity alone, we draw conclusions as to the predictive power of adding water vapor information.

Another goal of this thesis is to compare different machine learning techniques, viz., the random forest ensemble learning technique, which has shown success on a number of other weather prediction problems, and the current state-of-the-art machine learning technique for images and image sequences, convolutional neural network (CNN). We compare these in terms of problem representation, training complexity, and nowcasting performance.

A final goal is to compare the nowcasting performance of our machine learning techniques against published results for current state-of-the-art model based nowcasting techniques.


First Advisor

Michael Zink

Second Advisor

David L Pepyne

Third Advisor

Hari Balasubramanian