Brief Review — Convolutional LSTM Network: A Machine Learning Approach for Precipitation Nowcasting

ConvLSTM, Convolutions Used Within LSTM

Sik-Ho Tsang
4 min readSep 4, 2022

Convolutional LSTM Network: A Machine Learning Approach for Precipitation Nowcasting,
, by Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, and Hong Kong Observatory
2015 NIPS, Over 5500 Citations (Sik-Ho Tsang @ Medium)
Forecast Prediction

  • ConvLSTM is proposed where convolution is added into LSTM for forecast prediction.


  1. ConvLSTM
  2. Results

1. ConvLSTM

1.1. Standard FC-LSTM

  • LSTM as a special RNN structure has proven stable and powerful for modeling long-range dependencies in various previous studies.
  • FC-LSTM may be seen as a multivariate version of LSTM where the input, cell output and states are all 1D vectors:
  • (Please visit LSTM if interested.)

1.2. Proposed ConvLSTM

Inner structure of ConvLSTM
  • An extension of FC-LSTM, ConvLSTM, is proposed, which has convolutional structures in both the input-to-state and state-to-state transitions:
  • where * is the convolutional operator.
  • In this sense, FC-LSTM is actually a special case of ConvLSTM with all features standing on a single cell.
  • Zero padding is used in the hidden state.

1.3. Encoding-Forecasting Structure

Transforming 2D image into 3D tensor
  • For precipitation nowcasting, the observation at every timestamp is a 2D radar echo map.
  • If we divide the map into tiled non-overlapping patches and view the pixels inside a patch as its measurements (see the above figure), the nowcasting problem naturally becomes a spatiotemporal sequence forecasting problem.
Encoding-forecasting ConvLSTM network for precipitation nowcasting
  • For the proposed spatiotemporal sequence forecasting problem, the model consists of two networks, an encoding network and a forecasting network.
  • The encoding LSTM compresses the whole input sequence into a hidden state tensor and the forecasting LSTM unfolds this hidden state to give the final prediction:

2. Results

2.1. Moving-MNIST Dataset

  • Two handwritten digits bouncing inside a 64×64 patch. The starting position and velocity direction are chosen uniformly at random and the velocity amplitude is chosen randomly in [3; 5).
Comparison of ConvLSTM networks with FC-LSTM network on the Moving-MNIST dataset

ConvLSTM obtains lower loss than FC-LSTM.

An example showing an “out-of-domain” run From top to bottom: input frames; ground truth; prediction by the 3-layer network

The model can separate the overlapping digits successfully and predict the overall motion although the predicted digits are quite blurred.

2.2. Radar Echo Dataset

  • The radar echo dataset used in this paper is a subset of the three-year weather radar intensities collected in Hong Kong from 2011 to 2013. Since not every day is rainy and our nowcasting target is precipitation, the top 97 rainy days are selected to form the dataset.
Comparison of the average scores of different models over 15 prediction steps
Comparison of different models based on four precipitation nowcasting metrics over time
  • The performance of the FC-LSTM network is not so good for this task, which is mainly caused by the strong spatial correlation in the radar maps, i.e., the motion of clouds is highly consistent in a local region.

ConvLSTM outperforms the optical flow based ROVER algorithm, since it is trained end-to-end for this task and some complex spatiotemporal patterns in the dataset can be learned by the nonlinear and convolutional structure of the network.

Two prediction examples for the precipitation nowcasting problem From top to bottom: input frames; ground truth frames; prediction by ConvLSTM network; prediction by ROVER2
  • Some prediction results of ROVER2 and ConvLSTM are shown above.

ConvLSTM gains high citation. It is amazing that it is partially done by HK Observatory! I always watch their weather forecast!


[2015 NIPS] [ConvLSTM]
Convolutional LSTM Network: A Machine Learning Approach for Precipitation Nowcasting

Language Model / Sequence Model

2007 2015 … [ConvLSTM] 2016 … 2020 [ALBERT] [GPT-3] [T5] [Pre-LN Transformer] [MobileBERT] [TinyBERT]

My Other Previous Paper Readings



Sik-Ho Tsang

PhD, Researcher. I share what I learn. :) Linktree: for Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.