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Using Bayesian Model Averaging To Calibrate Forecast Ensembles

Adrian E. Raftery, Tilmann Gneiting, Fadoua Balabdaoui, Michael Polakowski

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Abstract Ensembles used for probabilistic weather forecasting often exhibit a spread-error correlation, but they tend to be underdispersive. This paper proposes a statistical method for postprocessing ensembles based on Bayesian model averaging (BMA), which is a standard method for combining predictive distributions from different sources. The BMA predictive probability density function (PDF) of any quantity of interest is a weighted average of PDFs centered on the individual bias-corrected forecasts, where the weights are equal to posterior probabilities of the models generating the forecasts and reflect the models' relative contributions to predictive skill over the training period. The BMA weights can be used to assess the usefulness of ensemble members, and this can be used as a basis for selecting ensemble members; this can be useful given the cost of running large ensembles. The BMA PDF can be represented as an unweighted ensemble of any desired size, by simulating from the BMA predictive distribution. The BMA predictive variance can be decomposed into two components, one corresponding to the between-forecast variability, and the second to the within-forecast variability. Predictive PDFs or intervals based solely on the ensemble spread incorporate the first component but not the second. Thus BMA provides a theoretical explanation of the tendency of ensembles to exhibit a spread-error correlation but yet be underdispersive. The method was applied to 48-h forecasts of surface temperature in the Pacific Northwest in January–June 2000 using the University of Washington fifth-generation Pennsylvania State University–NCAR Mesoscale Model (MM5) ensemble. The predictive PDFs were much better calibrated than the raw ensemble, and the BMA forecasts were sharp in that 90% BMA prediction intervals were 66% shorter on average than those produced by sample climatology. As a by-product, BMA yields a deterministic point forecast, and this had root-mean-square errors 7% lower than the best of the ensemble members and 8% lower than the ensemble mean. Similar results were obtained for forecasts of sea level pressure. Simulation experiments show that BMA performs reasonably well when the underlying ensemble is calibrated, or even overdispersed.