Is drought on the horizon? Researchers turn to AI in a bid to improve forecasts

As winter drags on, some people wonder whether to pack shorts for a late-March escape to Florida, while others eye April temperature trends in anticipation of sowing crops. Water managers in the western U.S. check for the possibility of early-spring storms to top off mountain snowpack that is crucial for irrigation, hydropower and salmon in the summer months.

Unfortunately, forecasts for this timeframe — roughly two to six weeks out — are a crapshoot, noted Lester Mackey, a statistical machine learning researcher at Microsoft’s New England research lab in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Mackey is bringing his expertise in artificial intelligence to the table in a bid to increase the odds of accurate and reliable forecasts.

“The subseasonal regime is where forecasts could use the most help,” he said.