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Hydrological time series forecasting using simple combinations: Big data testing and investigations on one-year ahead river flow predictability

Delivering useful hydrological forecasts is critical for urban and agricultural water management, hydropower generation, flood protection and management, drought mitigation and alleviation, and river basin planning and management, among others. In this work, we present and appraise a new methodology for hydrological time series forecasting. This methodology is based on simple combinations. The appraisal is made by using a big dataset consisted of 90-year-long mean annual river flow time series from approximately 600 stations. Covering large parts of North America and Europe, these stations represent various climate and catchment characteristics, and thus can collectively support benchmarking. Five individual forecasting methods and 26 variants of the introduced methodology are applied to each time series. The application is made in one-step ahead forecasting mode. The individual methods are the last-observation benchmark, simple exponential smoothing, complex exponential smoothing, automatic autoregressive fractionally integrated moving average (ARFIMA) and Facebook's Prophet, while the 26 variants are defined by all the possible combinations (per two, three, four or five) of the five afore-mentioned methods. The findings have both practical and theoretical implications. The simple methodology of the study is identified as well-performing in the long run. Our large-scale results are additionally exploited for finding an interpretable relationship between predictive performance and temporal dependence in the river flow time series, and for examining one-year ahead river flow predictability.


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