A three-stage model pipeline predicting regional avalanche danger in Switzerland (RAvaFcast v1.0.0): a decision-support tool for operational avalanche forecasting
Abstract. Despite the increasing use of physical snow-cover simulations in regional avalanche forecasting, avalanche forecasting is still an expert-based decision-making process. However, recently, it has become possible to obtain fully automated avalanche danger level predictions with satisfying accuracy by combining physically-based snow-cover models with machine learning approaches. These predictions are made at the location of automated weather stations close to avalanche starting zones. To bridge the gap between these local predictions and fully data- and model-driven regional avalanche danger maps, we developed and evaluated a three-stage model pipeline (RAvaFcast v1.0.0), involving the steps classification, interpolation, and aggregation. More specifically, we evaluated the impact of various terrain features on the performance of a Gaussian process-based model for interpolation of local predictions to unobserved locations on a dense grid. Aggregating these predictions using an elevation-based strategy, we estimated the regional danger level and the corresponding elevation range for predefined warning regions, resulting in a forecast similar to the human-made avalanche forecast in Switzerland. The best-performing model matched the human-made forecasts with a mean day accuracy of approximately 66 % for the entire forecast domain, and 70 % specifically for the Alps. However, the performance depended strongly on the classifier's accuracy (i.e., a mean day accuracy of 68 %) and the density of local predictions available for the interpolation task. Despite these limitations, we believe that the proposed three-stage model pipeline has the potential to improve the interpretability of machine-made danger level predictions and has, thus, the potential to assist avalanche forecasters during forecast preparation, for instance, by being integrated in the forecast process in the form of an independent virtual forecaster.
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