The use of ambient humidity conditions to improve influenza forecast
Laboratory and epidemiological evidence indicate that ambient humidity modulates the survival and transmission of influenza. Here we explore whether the inclusion of humidity forcing in mathematical models describing influenza transmission improves the accuracy of forecasts generated with those models. We generate retrospective forecasts for 95 cities over 10 seasons in the United States and assess both forecast accuracy and error. Overall, we find that humidity forcing improves forecast performance (at 1–4 lead weeks, 3.8% more peak week and 4.4% more peak intensity forecasts are accurate than with no forcing) and that forecasts generated using daily climatological humidity forcing generally outperform forecasts that utilize daily observed humidity forcing (4.4% and 2.6% respectively). These findings hold for predictions of outbreak peak intensity, peak timing, and incidence over 2- and 4-week horizons. The results indicate that use of climatological humidity forcing is warranted for current operational influenza forecast.