Document Type



Estimating maximum possible rainfall is of great value for flood prediction and protection, particularly for regions, such as Canada, where urban and fluvial floods from extreme rainfalls have been known to be a major concern. In this study, a methodology is proposed to forecast real-time rainfall (with one month lead time) using different number of spatial inputs with different orders of lags. For this purpose, two types of models are used. The first one is a machine learning data driven-based model, which uses a set of hydrologic variables as inputs, and the second one is an empirical-statistical model that employs the multi-criteria decision analysis method for rainfall forecasting. The data driven model is built based on Artificial Neural Networks (ANNs), while the developed multi-criteria decision analysis model uses Technique for Order of Preference by Similarity to Ideal Solution (TOPSIS) approach. A comprehensive set of spatially varying climate variables, including geopotential height, sea surface temperature, sea level pressure, humidity, temperature and pressure with different orders of lags is collected to form input vectors for the forecast models. Then, a feature selection method is employed to identify the most appropriate predictors. Two sets of results from the developed models, i.e., maximum daily rainfall in each month (RMAX) and cumulative value of rainfall for each month (RCU), are considered as the target variables for forecast purpose. The results from both modeling approaches are compared using a number of evaluation criteria such as Nash-Sutcliffe Efficiency (NSE). The proposed models are applied for rainfall forecasting for a coastal area in Western Canada: Vancouver, British Columbia. Results indicate although data driven models such as ANNs work well for the simulation purpose, developed TOPSIS model considerably outperforms ANNs for the rainfall forecasting. ANNs show acceptable simulation performance during the calibration period (NSE up to 0.9) but they fail for the validation (NSE of 0.2) and forecasting (negative NSE). The TOPSIS method delivers better rainfall forecasting performance with the NSE of about 0.7. Moreover, the number of predictors that are used in the TOPSIS model are significantly less than those required by the ANNs to show an acceptable performance (7 against 47 for forecasting RCU and 6 against 32 for forecasting RMAX). Reliable and precise rainfall forecasting, with adequate lead time, benefits enhanced flood warning and decision making to reduce potential flood damages.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


© 2018 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (

APA Citation

Zahmatkesh, Z., & Goharian, E. (2018). Comparing Machine Learning and Decision Making Approaches to Forecast Long Lead Monthly Rainfall: The City of Vancouver, Canada. Hydrology, 5(1), 10.