Can we use Artificial Intelligence for Avalanche Forecasting?
Even the best forecasters only reach about 75% accuracy in their avalanche predictions. After all, they are only human. One of the greatest challenges is in the fact that avalanche danger cannot be precisely measured or communicated. It is, therefore, a matter of expert assessment and opinion by humans.
Last season the Swiss Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research successfully tested a first-of-its-kind, artificial intelligence computer program to assist in its avalanche forecasts. The SLF is a world leader in the field of avalanche forecasting and pushes the boundaries of avalanche forecasting methods.
SLF human observers collect measurements from over 120 different remote automatic weather stations located across the Swiss Alps. They then analyze the data, make interpretations, and combine opinions into a single bulletin published at 5 pm each day.
SLF researchers tested the new AI model as a “second opinion” against the human-made forecasts. In many cases the model agreed, but sometimes it did not. The differences are then reviewed.
The new Artificial Intelligence for Avalanche Forecasting model was trained using more than two decades-worth of weather and forecast information. SLF researchers now estimate the program is about 75% accurate in its model predictions. SLF forecaster Frank Techel describes the Artificial Intelligence for Avalanche Forecasting:
“The computer analyses the data in a different way than we do. That’s why it occasionally arrives at a slightly different conclusion. The computer forecast is very useful, especially for drawing exact boundaries between regions in which different danger levels prevail.”
The model, however, is limited to dry-snow avalanches. The SLF is planning on introducing a new Artificial Intelligence for Avalanche Forecasting system capable of modeling wet-snow avalanches as well as snowpack stability next season.