Objective Classification of Tornadic and Nontornadic Severe Weather Outbreaks

Mercer, Andrew E.; Shafer, Chad M.; Doswell III, Charles A.; Leslie, Lance M.; Richman, Michael B.
December 2009
Monthly Weather Review;Dec2009, Vol. 137 Issue 12, p4355
Academic Journal
Tornadoes often strike as isolated events, but many occur as part of a major outbreak of tornadoes. Nontornadic outbreaks of severe convective storms are more common across the United States but pose different threats than do those associated with a tornado outbreak. The main goal of this work is to distinguish between significant instances of these outbreak types objectively by using statistical modeling techniques on numerical weather prediction output initialized with synoptic-scale data. The synoptic-scale structure contains information that can be utilized to discriminate between the two types of severe weather outbreaks through statistical methods. The Weather Research and Forecast model (WRF) is initialized with synoptic-scale input data (the NCEP–NCAR reanalysis dataset) on a set of 50 significant tornado outbreaks and 50 nontornadic severe weather outbreaks. Output from the WRF at 18-km grid spacing is used in the objective classification. Individual severe weather parameters forecast by the model near the time of the outbreak are analyzed from simulations initialized at 24, 48, and 72 h prior to the outbreak. An initial candidate set of 15 variables expected to be related to severe storms is reduced to a set of 6 or 7, depending on lead time, that possess the greatest classification capability through permutation testing. These variables serve as inputs into two statistical methods, support vector machines and logistic regression, to classify outbreak type. Each technique is assessed based on bootstrap confidence limits of contingency statistics. An additional backward selection of the reduced variable set is conducted to determine which variable combination provides the optimal contingency statistics. Results for the contingency statistics regarding the verification of discrimination capability are best at 24 h; at 48 h, modest degradation is present. By 72 h, the contingency statistics decline by up to 15%. Overall, results are encouraging, with probability of detection values often exceeding 0.8 and Heidke skill scores in excess of 0.7 at 24-h lead time.


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