Benchmarking Tropical Cyclone Rapid Intensification with Satellite Images and Attention-based Deep Models

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Intensification with Satellite Images and Attention-based Deep Models

Ching-Yuan Bai1, Buo-Fu Chen2, and Hsuan-Tien Lin1

1 Department of Computer Science and Information Engineering, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan


2 Center for Weather Climate and Disaster Research, National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan

Abstract. Rapid intensification (RI) of tropical cyclones often causes major destruction to human civilization due to short response time. It is an important yet challenging task to accurately predict this kind of extreme weather event in advance. Traditionally, meteorologists tackle the task with human-driven feature extraction and predictor correction procedures. Nevertheless, these procedures do not leverage the power of modern machine learning models and abundant sensor data, such as satellite images. In addition, the human-driven nature of such an ap- proach makes it difficult to reproduce and benchmark prediction mod- els. In this study, we build a benchmark for RI prediction using only satellite images, which are underutilized in traditional techniques. The benchmark follows conventional data science practices, making it easier for data scientists to contribute to RI prediction. We demonstrate the usefulness of the benchmark by designing a domain-inspired spatiotem- poral deep learning model. The results showcase the promising perfor- mance of deep learning in solving complex meteorological problems such as RI prediction.

Keywords: Atmospheric Science · Tropical Cyclone · Rapid Intensifi- cation · Spatiotemporal Data · Deep Learning · Attention.

1 Introduction

The tropical cyclone (TC) is one of the most devastating weather systems on Earth, characterized by intense and rapidly rotating winds around a low-pressure center and associated with eyewall clouds and spiral rainbands producing heavy rainfall. In order to reduce and respond to damage caused by TCs, the past half-century has seen much effort devoted to improving the forecast of TC track, intensity, and the associated rainfall and flooding. Although TC track forecasts has improved significantly during the past few decades, prediction of TC rapid intensification (RI) remains challenging, which affects the subsequent production


of TC structure and rainfall forecast [5]. TC intensity is defined as the maximum sustained wind in the TC inner-core region, and rapid intensification (RI) is defined as a TC experiencing an intensity increase surpassing a threshold (25–35 knots) within a 24-hour period. The range of thresholds represents the 90 to 95 percentiles of 24-hour TC intensity changes in different basins.

Accurately predicting the onset of RI is particularly crucial because react- ing to an off-shore RI event before TC landfall requires sufficient time; delayed reaction has caused some of the most catastrophic TC disasters. For instance, hurricane Harvey in August 2017 caused 107 casualties and cost approximately

$125 billion USD as it rapidly intensified to a category 4 hurricane only hours before landfall. However, improvement in RI prediction has been slow partly because RI events are rare. Additionally, favorable environmental conditions are generally necessary but do not guarantee RI onset [7]. Thermo-dynamical pro- cesses within the TC in response to these environmental forces are believed to be even more critical. For example, the development of up-shear convective burst [11,14] and asymmetric surface fluxes and boundary-layer inflow associated with the background flow [2,13] are factors that control the rainfall distribution and, in turn, TC intensification. Thus, a successful RI prediction scheme must accurately depict both environmental conditions (in which a TC is embedded) and vortex-scale features such as the distribution of precipitation or inner-core TC structure.

The goal of this paper is to tackle TC RI prediction from a data-science perspective. We propose a new benchmarking procedure with rigorous practices common to data science which includes a satellite image based dataset to be publicly released. We experiment with deep learning methods for this task. In Section 2, we briefly review related work on TC intensity and RI prediction. In Section 3, we introduce our newly devised benchmark and the major improve- ments over previous benchmarks. In Section 4, we propose an attention-based deep learning approach for this task and highlight the connection between model design and meteorological domain knowledge. In Section 5, we present the ex- perimental results and attempt to interpret what the model has learned based on attention mechanisms. We conclude our findings in Section 6.

2 Related Work

Previous studies on predicting TC RI focus on utilizing predictors as features (specifically predictors published by the SHIPS project, to be introduced in Sec- tion 2.1). Predictors are high level statistics (e.g., mean or standard deviation) that summarize collected or simulated atmospheric data in a span of time and space. The high level physical meaning carried by predictors allow human to easily comprehend and design prediction models accordingly. However, the ma- jor downside of studies relying on predictors is the lack of exploration for new techniques that better exploit the raw data. The loss of detail in predictors has bottlenecked improvements in prediction performance.


In this work, instead of relying on predictors, we directly utilize raw data col- lected from satellite sensors with deep learning models. Our model architecture is inspired by domain insights from the Advanced Dvorak Technique (ADT) [12], an operational technique for TC intensity forecasting based on raw data. Details of ADT will be discussed in Section 2.2.

2.1 Statistical Hurricane Intensification Predictive Scheme

The SHIPS project has developed a series of statistical models for probabilistic prediction of RI based on atmospheric predictors [8,15,16]. The SHIPS RI index (SHIPS-RII [8]) predicts the probability of a TC intensifying by at least 25, 30, and 35 kt within 24 hours. This scheme uses simple linear discriminant analysis to determine the RI probability based on a relatively small number (< 10) of predictors describing mainly environmental factors and limited aspects of internal TC structure observed by meteorological satellites. Candidate predictors (∼ 20) for SHIPS-RII [8] are subjectively determined by human intelligence, and the final predictors used for linear discriminant analysis are basin-dependent.

The final model is not publicly available, but the details of model design are well documented in publication and thus technically reproducible.

A subsequent work [15] uses Bayesian inference (SHIPS-Bayesian) and lo- gistic regression (SHIPS-logistic) to predict RI probability. The authors show that both SHIPS-Bayesian and SHIPS-logistic exhibit forecast performance that generally exceeds the skill of SHIPS-RII; blending the three models further im- proves performance. Another study [16] integrates an additional 4 to 6 predictors derived from satellite passive microwave (PMW) observations into the SHIPS- logistic model and demonstrates a relative performance improvement from 53.5%

to 103.0% in the Atlantic compared to the original model. More details will be discussed in Section 3.1. Note that these SHIPS-RII techniques are only applica- ble in the Atlantic and eastern Pacific basins. Thus, a new technique applicable for all global TCs is demanded.

2.2 Advanced Dvorak Technique

ADT [12] is an automated technique for real-time TC intensity estimation based on satellite image analysis. The technique replaces several human steps in the Dvorak Technique (DT) with automated procedures. The ADT has two stages:

scene type classification and intensity post-processing. A satellite image instance is first classified into one of many pre-determined scene types according to the cloud distribution with respect to the TC center. Scene scores are derived from the characteristic matching test for each scene type, and the image is classi- fied as the scene type with the highest corresponding scene score. For instance, the curved band cloud scene characteristic matching test measures how well the curve of the cloud bands matches the 10 log spiral. For each scene type, there is a unique method of deriving the intensity of the satellite image. In the second stage, the predicted intensity is post-processed by applying heuristic rules to clip the intensity into a reasonable range, after which the value is smoothed by


applying a weighted average over the intensity of previous time steps. Although ADT is currently used only to estimate TC intensity, it inspires our proposed model in (a) focusing on individual frames to relate cloud features and TC in- tensity in the first stage; (b) averaging to take the time information into account in the second stage. More details are presented in Section 4.

3 Benchmark

A fair and reproducible benchmark is the key to validating model performance for the continuous improvement of RI prediction. This includes adequately cho- sen metrics to reflect model performance and well-defined, disjoint training and testing datasets to evaluate how well the model generalizes on holdout data. In this section, we first review the limitations of the current benchmark within the development of SHIPS-RII. Then, we propose a revised benchmark that solves the limitations and is better aligned with data science practices.

3.1 Existing Benchmark within SHIPS-RII Development

The metric adopted in the meteorology domain for benchmarking RI prediction is the Brier score (BS), which is the mean square error (MSE) between the {0, 1}- valued ground-truth RI labels and the probabilistic ([0, 1]-valued) predictions.

Leave-one-year-out cross validation of TC data from 1995 to 2013 is applied for model training and hyperparameter tuning, with the Brier score serving as both the optimization objective and evaluation metric. Cross-validated performance is reported with no special mention of holdout data for testing.

The dataset for building SHIPS-RII is constructed as follows. First, numerous features are collected from TCs, including climatology features (statistical prop- erties calculated from historical data), real-time measured atmospheric/oceanic features, and features extracted from large-scale numerical model simulations of current atmosphere conditions. Then, a cherry-picked subset of TCs is re- moved for feature extraction to improve model performance. Finally, a subset of summarized features is selected by linear discriminant analysis and heuristics to serve as the final set of features (i.e. predictors in Section 2.1).

Given the metric and dataset within the current benchmark above, we ob- serve four main issues:

1. The original data for deriving the features is not easily accessible to the public.

2. The cherry-picking data cleaning is subjective and not easily reproducible.

3. There is no holdout test set to gauge the true generalization performance of models.

4. The BS metric is knowingly sensitive to class imbalance, but the RI predic- tion problem is class-imbalanced in nature.


3.2 Proposed Benchmark

Next, we proposed a new benchmark to conquer the four issues. The new bench- mark includes a more adequate evaluation metric and a publicly accessible dataset with a reproducible construction procedure and training/test splitting.

Metric Different metrics are appropriate for evaluating different problems. For instance, for problems that involve outliers in the data that one would like to ignore, mean absolute error (MAE) is more suitable than mean square error (MSE), which puts greater emphasis on outlying data points. For the TC RI task, one major property of the data is its highly imbalanced classes. Due to the nature of the TC life cycle, RI mostly occurs only during the early to mid stages of a TC when it grows in strength in a short period of time. Thus, the number of RI to non-RI timeframes is approximately 1 : 20 (the positive class comprises 5% of the total data). Naturally, the performance metric should account for such data imbalance and should avoid rewarding highly biased classifiers that only output the majority class.

Unfortunately, the Brier score does not take class imbalance into consider- ation. For instance, a naive constant classifier that predicts only the majority class (in this case, no-RI) with class imbalance of 1 : 20 yields a very low Brier score of 0.05. As we are more interested in discerning the minority class, it is difficult for the Brier score to differentiate skillful models from unskillful models.

The Heidke Skill Score (HSS) is a metric commonly used in meteorology that accounts for class imbalance. It is defined as how much better the model prediction accuracy is than the standard forecast:


1 − SF , ACC = TP + TN

N , and

SF = TP + FN

N ×TP + FP

N +TN + FN

N ×TN + FP

N ,

where N is the number of total instances, ACC is the accuracy, SF is the standard forecast, defined as correct by chance with class proportion, TP is the number of true positives, TN is the number of true negatives, FP is the number of false positives, and FN is the number of false negatives. It is more difficult for the standard forecast to correctly predict under class imbalance as a skewed class proportion increases the odds of being correct by chance, Thus, using standard forecast as the baseline makes HSS class-imbalance aware.

Other common metrics for handling imbalanced data include the F1 score (the harmonic mean of precision and recall), the Matthews correlation coefficient, the precision-recall area under the curve (PR-AUC), and the receiver operating characteristic area under the curve (ROC-AUC) (the latter two are only for binary classes). We select PR-AUC as the main evaluation metric, since precision and recall are both important for this task, coupled with HSS as a side metric to make it easier for meteorology experts to gauge performance.


Dataset Since the raw form of most TC features is too complicated for people to analyze and comprehend, only summarized statistical properties are released for public usage and used by SHIPS-RII. For example, one common feature is the standard deviation of 100–300 km infrared brightness temperatures whereas the entire distribution of infrared brightness temperatures over the whole geograph- ical location is available but not fully utilized. Another common feature is the time-averaged potential TC intensity estimated by simulation, even when data is available for the entire duration of the TC. Information loss due to statistical properties taken over time or space is particularly harmful for RI prediction be- cause location- and timing-specific properties of the tropical cyclone are known to cause rapid intensification.

Thus, we present a new dataset derived from [3,4], which consists of satellite images of tropical cyclones (four channels) with data available every three hours.1 Each TC sequence is split into 24-hour segments. Each segment is associated with a label indicating the occurrence of RI during the period. Preprocessing of satellite images follows typical meteorology practices with emphasis on the

“objectiveness”, i.e., the entire procedure involves no human intervention. The data consists of TCs from 2003 to 2017 and is split into two parts for training (2003 to 2014) and testing (2015 to 2017). A disjoint testing set allows for the evaluation of model generalization on holdout data; cross-validation is avoided because it is particularly infeasible in terms of efficiency for deep learning models.

Satellite images, unlike features generated by predictive simulations, are con- sidered lower-level data, i.e., they involve less processing. On the other hand, predictive features are generated by large-scale dynamic atmospheric simula- tions. Depending on predictive features poses a consistency issue because the simulation models are updated yearly; thus they may change over a short period of time. The fact that previous studies all depend on mixed data underlines the importance of making better use of satellite images.

To highlight the contribution of our proposed benchmark, we inspect whether the issues with the existing benchmark are resolved. First of all, the satellite im- age data including the scripts for preprocessing are released for public use. The preprocessing procedure is fully automated and does not require any human intervention. A disjoint set of data is reserved for testing to avoid presenting overfitting benchmark results. Finally, PR-AUC and HSS are adopted as evalu- ation metrics, both better reflect model performance under class imbalance.

4 Proposed Method

The new benchmark allows us to design and evaluate the potential of a domain- inspired model that takes in satellite images as inputs. The model belongs to the family of spatiotemporal deep learning methods, using deep convolutional neural networks (CNNs) to extract essential features from image data in an autonomous manner. As models generally suffer from the curse of dimensionality, complex

1 Tropical Cyclone Rapid Intensification with Satellite Images:


spatiotemporal data requires manual feature extraction (such as hand-carved kernels) to compress it into smaller chunks. Such manual processing discards a large amount of information and is inefficient in finding optimal features because all feedback comes from trial and error. Currently the meteorology community is attempting to break through the performance bottleneck by experimenting with modalities such as lightning strike occurrence.

We opt for an orthogonal path by attempting to extract more from the data that we already have, specifically TC satellite images with infrared (IR1), water vapour (WV), visible light (VL), and passive microwave (PMW) channels.

Table 1 shows that satellite images contain sufficient if not significantly more information in comparison to the features adopted in SHIPS-RII. One thing to note is the overlapping dependence on the infrared and water vapor channels, with infrared strictly dominating water vapor. Another is the lack of connection with the visible light channel as the signal is useful for only half of the time (the other half is nighttime). This is aligned with the feature selection in [3], which conclude that using only the IR1 and PMW channels yields the best performance. We follow the same practice to use only IR1 and PMW channels in our study.

Table 1: Potential satellite channels implicitly related to SHIPS-RII environmen- tal conditions

SHIPS-RII feature Satellite channel

200-hPa divergence from 0–1000-km radius IR1

850–700-hPa relative humidity from 200–800-km radius IR1/WV Total precipitable water averaged from 0–100-km radius IR1/WV Std dev of 50–200-km IR cloud-top brightness temperatures IR1

4.1 Model Architecture

To recapitulate, the data for this task is spatiotemporal and highly class-imbalanced while relatively lacking in quantity, with only approximately 1900 tropical cy- clone instances in total (from 2003 to 2017). The constraint posed by data prop- erties guides our model design. As the tropical cyclone is a well-studied phe- nomenon in meteorology and many techniques have been proposed and with- stood the test of time, translating the accumulated domain knowledge into data science is a difficult but rewarding task. Specifically, the Advanced Dvorak Method (ADT) is the inspiration for the attention modules in our model, which also allows us to observe what the model is focusing on. More details regarding individual components of the model are discussed later in this section.


4.2 Base Structure

Convolutional neural networks (CNNs) are suitable for modeling data with local spatial dependency, as the convolution operator operates on neighboring pix- els, making it the base structure of our model. We further extend the model to take into account the sequential nature of data. Currently there are three main neural network families that deal with time series: 3D-CNN, recurrent neural networks (RNNs), and Transformer (from low to high model complexity). 3D- CNN applies convolution on the time dimension in addition to the two spatial dimensions. RNN reuses the same recurrent block to process each single time frame in a series and summarizes past time frames to feed into the next time frame. The long-short term memory network (LSTM) is one of the most popular implementations of RNN with an additional memory state for storing long-term dependencies in sequences. It can be coupled with CNNs to form a convolutional LSTM (ConvLSTM) [18], replacing all matrix multiplications with convolution operations to simultaneously model spatial and temporal aspects of data. Trans- former relies on an attention mechanism to determine dependency between each input and output time frame, calculating a similarity score between each input time frame (a query) and a set of context (keys) to serve as importance weight- ing for a linear combination of the values that correspond to the individual keys.

The query approach decouples the similarity and information aspect as the keys and values—in contrary to past attention mechanisms—can now be different. It also allows the output at each time frame to pull information from any (masked) input time frame, thus excelling in modeling sequential dependency. However, Transformers are huge architectures requiring large amounts of data to train, which exceeded the resources of the authors at the time this research was con- ducted.

Most pretrained computer vision neural networks are pretrained on large- scale image classification datasets such as CIFAR-10 or ImageNet. As the domain for satellite images is fundamentally different from those represented in publicly- available pretrained models, it is difficult to apply common image models (for instance ResNet50 [6]) to this task. Due to the lack of data, training from scratch was not feasible for larger models (as verified empirically). In the end, we opted for the minimalist model architecture presented in Fig. 1. The base structure is a ConvLSTM model with convolutional layers in the front to enrich features and a dense block in the end to compress the three-dimensional features to one single probabilistic scalar output.

4.3 Incorporating Meteorological Knowledge

Neural network models in deep learning are notorious for their lack of explain- ability and interpretability. This may work without major drawbacks in com- mon tasks such as image classification or language translation, as the purpose of these tasks is to autonomize previously human-labor-intensive jobs. The rela- tively lower cost of making mistakes in these tasks allows for the application of


black-box models, as deep neural networks outperform past approaches. How- ever, for other tasks with more at stake (for instance in the medical domain), being able to peek into the black box becomes significantly more important than pure performance. Understanding when and why a model makes mistakes helps people build trust the model output and evaluate the risk of incorporating it into the workflow. For instance, saliency maps [17] are utilized to trace which part of the image contributes most to the classification result.

One of the most intuitive methods of understanding models is to directly design the model according to previously acquired domain knowledge. By ex- ploiting such know-how, the learning is guided by expert insight which allows analysis of whether the models learn as intended. As mentioned in earlier sec- tions, the Advanced Dvorak Technique used for TC intensity estimation inspired the attention components of our model. The major purpose of these additional components is to help diagnose and understand the model, as opposed to im- proving its performance.

Cross Channel Attention (CCA) The first of the two key points of ADT is to locate the TC eye and perform scene-type analysis. The extreme convection in the core area of TCs is known to be critical for RI. We integrate this into our model by applying cross channel attention between the CNN encoder block and recurrent block to reinforce the key locations for the model to focus on.

Specifically, cross channel attention takes the multiple channel feature and apply a 2-dimensional importance weighting mask that is shared across every channel.

In our model, the importance mask is implemented as a two-layer CNN with sigmoid function in the end for normalization. The global view across all different channels allows incorporation of information from different sources to facilitate an overall importance evaluation of where in the hidden map the model should focus its attention. Given our domain knowledge, we expect a successful model to focus mainly on the TC core.

Sequence Self-attention (SSA) The second key point of ADT is to apply time averaging on the predicted intensity, showcasing the importance of taking earlier information into account. In ADT the averaging scheme calculates the non-weighted mean intensity over a 3-hr window (empirically determined). Di- rectly translating the concept to RI prediction is problematic, as (1) our model predicts the occurrence of a future event, so the ground truth for the recent past is still not available; and (2) averaging the RI probability may not be as reasonable as averaging TC intensity. Also, we are not satisfied with the heuris- tic of applying the non-weighted average over a fixed window as, intuitively, the optimal contribution of different time steps is certainly different and should be determined dynamically. As a result, we incorporate the widely adopted se- quence attention mechanism [10] into our recurrent block. Of the different styles of sequence attention, we base our design on Bahdanau style self-attention [1].

For each time step, features with information for the current time step is con- catenated with a weighted average of features from all time steps prior to form


the recurrent block input. The weighting is calculated by evaluating the sim- ilarity between features for the current time step and prior features. In our model, we use the projected cosine distance as the similarity metric, which is implemented as first passing the two given features through a two-layer CNN for feature extraction, then applying normalized inner product. The CNN for feature extraction before calculating the cosine distance is essential due to the self-rotation motion of tropical cyclones. Pixel misalignment caused by rotation is remedied by adding the additional feature extractor, which implicitly learns to transform the features into higher level ones with rotation-invariance.

ConvLSTM Sequence + Attention

Cross Entropy loss


𝑊×𝐻×2×𝑇 𝑊 2×𝐻

2×16×𝑇 𝑊 4×𝐻

4×32×𝑇 𝑊 4×𝐻


𝑊 4×𝐻

4×64×𝑇 𝑊


4×𝑇 128×𝑇 2×𝑇

Fully connected layer Convolution Linear convolution

without bias


function Hadamard product

CNN encoder block Recurrent block Dense block

Fig. 1: Model architecture. The proposed model is split into three main compo- nents: CNN encoder block, recurrent block, and dense block.

5 Experiment and Analysis

For the experiments, we trained the model on the training set for 500 epochs, validating on the validation set every 10 epochs. Hyper-parameter tuning and epoch selection were achieved by selecting the model with best validation PR- AUC. We then evaluated the trained model on the test set and report the test performance in this paper. Hyper-parameters were minimally tuned only for the base ConvLSTM model such that the model converges and does not collapse to predicting the majority class only; for all other variants, they were kept identical.

Tuned parameters include – Batch size: 256 – Learning rate: 5e-4

– L2 regularization factor: 1e-5


– Dense layer dropout rate: 0.2.

All weights are initialized identically according to convention except for the final logits layer bias, which was carefully set to log(# of positive class instances

# of negative class instances) to output a closer guess initially before any training given class imbalance. We chose the Adam optimizer [9] to optimize the weighted binary cross entropy loss with class weights corresponding to the reciprocal of the number of class instances (1 : 20). We experimented with both class weighting and minor class bootstrapping to prevent model collapse and found that the latter caused the model to overfit. The batch size was set as large as possible to mitigate large variances in gradient magnitude when the number of sampled instances was different for each mini-batch. The input satellite images were augmented by random rotation to simulate the natural rotation of tropical cyclones. This is the key to making deep learning possible, as without rotation augmentation, even the most shallow neural network model easily overfits the training set. All the code and trained models are publicly released.2

5.1 Input Time Length Experiment

The input time length is how long prior to the time step should be included as the input to the model. It may seem that the longer the better, as the model can actively choose what features to depend on. However, tropical cyclones are fundamentally chaotic systems where small changes in the initial value lead to largely bifurcated results. In SHIPS-RII, 24 hours of data are fed into the model.

The trade-off for the input time length is that with a shorter length, the model can start predicting in the very early stages of TC development but may use more information from earlier stages, whereas with a longer length, the situation is the exact opposite, and the training time is extended linearly with longer gradient backpropagation. As ConvLSTM can take arbitrary-length sequence input, we experimented with dynamic- and fixed-length input and found that dynamic-length resulted in inefficient training (each sequence cannot be stacked uniformly) and poor performance, suggesting that fixed-length input is better.

We experimented with input lengths of 12, 24, 36, and 48 hours; the results are presented in Fig. 2. For PR-AUC, an input length of 24 hours yields the best performance, identical to the empirically determined length adopted in past studies. An input length of 36 hours performs satisfactorily as well, indicating the possibility of the model benefiting from more data. For HSS, an input length of 36 hours yields the best performance, in contrast to the empirically determined length in past studies, with 24 and 48 hours not far behind. Thus, input lengths of 24 or 36 are in the range of optimal input time lengths. Interestingly, this alignment with meteorology-domain knowledge suggests that approaches from past studies and our model, as different as they might be, find important features from a similar range in history. For the sake of faster training and less data required for prediction, we conducted the following experiments with 24 hours as input.



12 24 36 48 input hour length (hr) 0.00

0.02 0.04 0.06 0.08 0.10


0.081 0.098

0.092 0.085

12 24 36 48

input hour length (hr) 0.000

0.025 0.050 0.075 0.100 0.125 0.150 0.175



0.159 0.169


Fig. 2: Performance given different input time lengths (left: PR-AUC, right:

HSS). These results show that input lengths of 24 or 36 are in the range of optimal input time lengths.

5.2 Ablation Study

We conducted an ablation study on the two ADT-inspired components attached to the base ConvLSTM model. Recall that the purpose of CCA and SSA is to assist in the understanding of the model prediction with gains in model perfor- mance as a secondary goal. As a result, the hyperparameters are not specifically tuned for each model, nor is the architecture. Performance gains via optimizing these details is left as future work. The PR-AUC and HSS results of the different variants are shown in Table 2.

ConvLSTM, ConvLSTM + CCA, and ConvLSTM + SSA perform similarly in both metrics, which shows that the additional domain-inspired components do not harm prediction quality. Note however that the combination of CCA and SSA results in clearly worse performance as the model size becomes too large, causing the model to overfit on the training set. This is an example of the most difficult issue we encountered when designing the model: balancing having enough capacity to model spatiotemporal relations and being compact enough to not overfit on the small dataset. We will discuss the takeaways from CCA and SSA in the following sections.

Table 2: Results of ablation study

PR-AUC Heidke Skill Score

ConvLSTM 0.098 0.159

ConvLSTM + CCA 0.095 0.164

ConvLSTM + CCA 0.099 0.161

ConvLSTM + CCA + SSA 0.089 0.152


5.3 Cross Channel Attention Analysis

The purpose of CCA is to combine information across all channels to produce a shared importance mapping. In Fig. 3 we randomly sampled four instances for visualization and compare these with existing domain knowledge in meteorology regarding factors relevant to rapid intensification. We observe that CCA helps the neural network to focus on coherent convective features within the TC core region. High importance is given to areas with extreme convection characterized by high PMW rain rates (warm color in the figures) and extremely low IR1 brightness temperatures (dark blue in the figures), indicating that cross chan- nel information is jointly considered. The strongly subsidence and dry area in the TC outer region characterized by zero PMW rain rate and very high IR1 brightness temperatures are also highlighted by the weighting. Domain knowl- edge holds that RI is closely related to the convective burst within the TC inner core. Therefore, we conclude that the focus of the model from a meteorological perspective is crucial to making correct predictions.

Furthermore, we demonstrate how the model follows the dynamical TC de- velopment process with the bottom-right subfigure in Fig. 3. We observe the formation of the TC eye (high IR1 Tb at the center) indicating the potential in- tensification of the TC in the last three IR1 satellite images. Importance weight- ing becomes significantly stronger at the TC center, focusing on the evolution of TC inner-core convection.

Fig. 3: Cross channel attention. Four randomly sampled instances are visualized, each with three rows; the top, middle, and bottom being the satellite IR1 channel, satellite PMW channel, and model attention map (CCA), respectively. White implies a higher importance for the weighting.

5.4 Sequence Self-attention Analysis

In ADT, an intensity average is taken over a 3-hr window with equal weighting, which is counter-intuitive as the importance of each time step should be different.


0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 frame number

0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80

percentage (%)



1.6 0.2 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0

Fig. 4: Histogram of time step with highest attention score. Counts are normal- ized with respect to total number of instances, presented here as percentages.

We inspected the attention weights of the last time step over the time series extracted from the sequence attention component. We assume that since later time steps are closer to the final step, their similarities are higher, analogous to the exponential weighted moving average giving higher weights to more recent information. In Fig. 4 we present the histogram of the time step associated with the highest attention score.

Interestingly, the attention is highest on the first frame and exponentially decays over time. The last four steps have never been given the highest atten- tion score out of all time steps, going against our intuition that later frames are more important. This phenomenon is explained by a key difference between our approach toward the weighted average versus the time averaging in ADT. In ADT, as the averaging is applied directly to intensity, due to the changes in at- mospheric environment being continuous, intensity remains similar between time steps that are closer. In our model, the weighted average of sequence attention is applied to the hidden maps derived from the input satellite image features.

Neighboring time steps provide similar or even redundant information whereas more distant time steps offer more. As the entire 24-hr duration is important, the last frame gives more attention to the distant past to retrieve features that may not be sufficiently encoded in the ConvLSTM memory. It is also possible that since the end goal is to predict occurrences of rapid intensification, which is defined as whether the wind speed of the last frame increases by over 35 knots within 24 hours, the model looks back in time to determine the difference between features from now and 24 hours ago as a point of reference.


6 Conclusion

In this work, we propose a new benchmark for detecting rapid intensification of tropical cyclones, including a benchmark dataset based on TC satellite im- ages with clearly defined, disjoint training, validation, and testing sets. We seek to exploit features from lower-level data such as satellite signals as they of- fer the most detailed information, in contrast to features utilized in the past derived from trial-and-error heuristics with a mix of measured and simulated data. We point out the insuitability of the commonly-reported Brier skill score given the nature of the high class imbalance of the task, and replace it with the precision-recall area under the curve (PR-AUC) and the Heidke skill score (HSS) to better reflect true model prediction performance. We also explore the poten- tial of applying deep learning methods, which are known to benefit from large quantities of detailed spatiotemporal data which humans are unable to directly process. The proposed model is based on the ConvLSTM network with addi- tional components—cross channel attention (CCA) and sequence self-attention (SSA)—inspired by the Advanced Dvorak Technique, a meteorological technique used to estimate TC intensity. We examine importance weighting from CCA and observe that the model focuses on the TC core where extreme convection occurs, a key factor for rapid intensification. We also evaluate sequence self-attention to determine which time step in a 24-hr series is paid the most attention by the model. The overall results suggest that important prediction features are spread across the entire series. In future work, we will better incorporate CCA and SSA to maintain model performance and hopefully incorporate all channels of satellite data.


The project was partially supported by the Ministry of Science and Technology in Taiwan via MOST 107-2628-E-002-008-MY3 and 108-2119-M-007-010.


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