Data-driven automated predictions of the avalanche danger level for dry-snow conditions in Switzerland
- Journal Article
Rights / licenseCreative Commons Attribution 4.0 International
Even today, the assessment of avalanche danger is by and large a subjective yet data-based decision-making process. Human experts analyse heterogeneous data volumes, diverse in scale, and conclude on the avalanche scenario based on their experience. Nowadays, modern machine learning methods and the rise in computing power in combination with physical snow cover modelling open up new possibilities for developing decision support tools for operational avalanche forecasting. Therefore, we developed a fully data-driven approach to assess the regional avalanche danger level, the key component in public avalanche forecasts, for dry-snow conditions in the Swiss Alps. Using a large data set of more than 20 years of meteorological data measured by a network of automated weather stations, which are located at the elevation of potential avalanche starting zones, and snow cover simulations driven with these input weather data, we trained two random forest (RF) classifiers. The first classifier (RF 1) was trained relying on the forecast danger levels published in the official Swiss avalanche bulletin. To reduce the uncertainty resulting from using the forecast danger level as target variable, we trained a second classifier (RF 2) that relies on a quality-controlled subset of danger level labels. We optimized the RF classifiers by selecting the best set of input features combining meteorological variables and features extracted from the simulated profiles. The accuracy of the models, i.e. the percentage of correct danger level predictions, ranged between 74 % and 76 % for RF 1 and between 72 % and 78 % for RF 2. We assessed the accuracy of forecasts with nowcast assessments of avalanche danger by well-trained observers. The performance of both models was similar to the agreement rate between forecast and nowcast assessments of the current experience-based Swiss avalanche forecasts (which is estimated to be 76 %). The models performed consistently well throughout the Swiss Alps, thus in different climatic regions, albeit with some regional differences. Our results suggest that the models may well have potential to become a valuable supplementary decision support tool for avalanche forecasters when assessing avalanche hazard. Show more
Journal / seriesNatural Hazards and Earth System Sciences
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