Does objective cluster analysis serve as a useful precursor to seasonal precipitation prediction at local scale? Application to western Ethiopia
Prediction of seasonal precipitation can provide actionable information to guide management of various sectoral activities. For instance, it is often translated into hydrological forecasts for better water resources management. However, many studies assume homogeneity in precipitation across an entire study region, which may prove ineffective for operational and local-level decisions, particularly for locations with high spatial variability. This study proposes advancing local-level seasonal precipitation predictions by first conditioning on regional-level predictions, as defined through objective cluster analysis, for western Ethiopia. To our knowledge, this is the first study predicting seasonal precipitation at high resolution in this region, where lives and livelihoods are vulnerable to precipitation variability given the high reliance on rain-fed agriculture and limited water resources infrastructure. The combination of objective cluster analysis, spatially high-resolution prediction of seasonal precipitation, and a modeling structure spanning statistical and dynamical approaches makes clear advances in prediction skill and resolution, as compared with previous studies. The statistical model improves versus the non-clustered case or dynamical models for a number of specific clusters in northwestern Ethiopia, with clusters having regional average correlation and ranked probability skill score (RPSS) values of up to 0.5 and 33 %, respectively. The general skill (after bias correction) of the two best-performing dynamical models over the entire study region is superior to that of the statistical models, although the dynamical models issue predictions at a lower resolution and the raw predictions require bias correction to guarantee comparable skills.