Understanding time based patterns is critical for any business. Questions like how much inventory to maintain, how much footfall do you expect in your store to how many people will travel by an airline – all of these are important time series problems to solve.

This is why time series forecasting is one of the must-know techniques for any data scientist. From predicting the weather to the sales of a product, it is integrated into the data science ecosystem and that makes it a mandatory addition to a data scientist’s skillset.

If you are a beginner, time series also provides a good way to start working on real life projects. You can relate to time series very easily and they help you enter the larger world of machine learning.

Prophet is an open source library published by Facebook that is based on **decomposable (trend+seasonality+holidays) models**. It provides us with the ability to make time series predictions with good accuracy using simple intuitive parameters and has support for including impact of custom seasonality and holidays!

In this article, we shall cover some background on how Prophet fills the existing gaps in generating fast reliable forecasts followed by a demonstration using Python. The final results will surprise you!

- What’s new in Prophet?
- The Prophet Forecasting Model
- Trend
- Saturating growth
- Changepoints

- Seasonality
- Holidays and events

- Trend
- Prophet in action (using Python & R)
- Trend Parameters
- Seasonality and Holiday Parameters
- Predicting passsenger traffic using Prophet

When a forecasting model doesn’t run as planned, we want to be able to tune the parameters of the method with regards to the specific problem at hand. Tuning these methods requires a thorough understanding of how the underlying time series models work. The first input parameters to automated ARIMA, for instance, are the maximum orders of the differencing, the auto-regressive components, and the moving average components. A typical analyst will not know how to adjust these orders to avoid the behaviour and this is the type of expertise that is hard to acquire and scale.

The Prophet package provides intuitive parameters which are easy to tune. Even someone who lacks expertise in forecasting models can use this to make meaningful predictions for a variety of problems in a business scenario.

We use a decomposable time series model with three main model components: trend, seasonality, and holidays. They are combined in the following equation:

**g(t)**: piecewise linear or logistic growth curve for modelling non-periodic changes in time series**s(t)**: periodic changes (e.g. weekly/yearly seasonality)**h(t)**: effects of holidays (user provided) with irregular schedules**ε**: error term accounts for any unusual changes not accommodated by the model_{t}

Using time as a regressor, Prophet is trying to fit several linear and non linear functions of time as components. Modeling seasonality as an additive component is the same approach taken by exponential smoothing in Holt-Winters technique . We are, in effect, framing the forecasting problem as a curve-fitting exercise rather than looking explicitly at the time based dependence of each observation within a time series.

Trend is modelled by fitting a piece wise linear curve over the trend or the non-periodic part of the time series. The linear fitting exercise ensures that it is least affected by spikes/missing data.

**Saturating growth**

An important question to ask here is – Do we expect the target to keep growing/falling for the entire forecast interval?

More often than not, there are cases with non-linear growth with a running maximum capacity. I will illustrate this with an example below.

Let’s say we are trying to forecast number of downloads of an app in a region for the next 12 months. The maximum downloads is always capped by the total number of smartphone users in the region. The number of smartphone users will also, however, increase with time.

With domain knowledge at his/her disposal, an analyst can then define a varying **capacity C(t)** for the time series forecasts he/she is trying to make.

**Changepoints**

Another question to answer is whether my time series encounters any underlying changes in the phenomena e.g. a new product launch, unforeseen calamity etc. At such points, the growth rate is allowed to change. These changepoints are automatically selected. However, a user can also feed the changepoints manually if it is required. In the below plot, the dotted lines represent the changepoints for the given time series.

As the number of changepoints allowed is increased the fit becomes more flexible. There are basically 2 problems an analyst might face while working with the trend component:

- Overfitting
- Underfitting

A parameter called changepoint_prior_scale could be used to adjust the trend flexibility and tackle the above 2 problems. Higher value will fit a more flexible curve to the time series.

To fit and forecast the effects of seasonality, prophet relies on fourier series to provide a flexible model. Seasonal effects s(t) are approximated by the following function:

P is the period (365.25 for yearly data and 7 for weekly data)

Parameters [a_{1}, b_{1}, ….., a_{N}, b_{N}] need to be estimated for a given N to model seasonality.

The fourier order N that defines whether high frequency changes are allowed to be modelled is an important parameter to set here. For a time series, if the user believes the high frequency components are just noise and should not be considered for modelling, he/she could set the values of N from to a lower value. If not, N can be tuned to a higher value and set using the forecast accuracy.

Holidays and events incur predictable shocks to a time series. For instance, Diwali in India occurs on a different day each year and a large portion of the population buy a lot of new items during this period.

Prophet allows the analyst to provide a custom list of past and future events. A window around such days are considered separately and additional parameters are fitted to model the effect of holidays and events.

Currently implementations of Prophet are available in both Python and R. They have exactly the same features.

Prophet() function is used do define a Prophet forecasting model in Python. Let us look at the most important parameters:

**3.1 Trend parameters**

Parameter |
Description |

growth | linear’ or ‘logistic’ to specify a linear or logistic trend |

changepoints | List of dates at which to include potential changepoints (automatic if not specified) |

n_changepoints | If changepoints in not supplied, you may provide the number of changepoints to be automatically included |

changepoint_prior_scale | Parameter for changing flexibility of automatic changepoint selection |

**3.2 Seasonality & Holiday Parameters**

Parameter |
Description |

yearly_seasonality | Fit yearly seasonality |

weekly_seasonality | Fit weekly seasonality |

daily_seasonality | Fit daily seasonality |

holidays | Feed dataframe containing holiday name and date |

seasonality_prior_scale | Parameter for changing strength of seasonality model |

holiday_prior_scale | Parameter for changing strength of holiday model |

yearly_seasonality, weekly_seasonality & daily_seasonality can take values as True, False and no of fourier terms which was discussed in the last section. If the value is True, default number of fourier terms (10) are taken. Prior scales are defined to tell the model how strongly it needs to consider the seasonal/holiday components while fitting and forecasting.

**Predicting passsenger traffic using Prophet**

Now that we are well versed with nuts and bolts of this amazing tool. Lets dive into a real dataset to see its potential. Here I have used Prophet in python for one of the practice problems available on datahack platform at this link.

The dataset is a univariate time series that contains hourly passenger traffic for a new public transport service. We are trying to forecast the traffic for next 7 months given historical traffic data of last 25 months. Basic EDA for this can be accessed from this course.

**Python Code:**

We see that this time series has a lot of noise. We could re-sample it day wise and sum to get a new series with reduced and noise and thereby easier to model.

# Calculate average hourly fraction hourly_frac = train.groupby(['hour']).mean()/np.sum(train.groupby(['hour']).mean()) hourly_frac.drop(['ID'], axis = 1, inplace = True) hourly_frac.columns = ['fraction'] # convert to time series from dataframe train.index = train.Datetime train.drop(['ID','hour','Datetime'], axis = 1, inplace = True) daily_train = train.resample('D').sum()

Prophet requires the variable names in the time series to be:

- y – Target
- ds – Datetime

So, the next step is to convert the dataframe according to the above specifications

daily_train['ds'] = daily_train.index daily_train['y'] = daily_train.Count daily_train.drop(['Count'],axis = 1, inplace = True)

Fitting the prophet model:

m = Prophet(yearly_seasonality = True, seasonality_prior_scale=0.1) m.fit(daily_train) future = m.make_future_dataframe(periods=213) forecast = m.predict(future)

We can look at the various components using the following command:

m.plot_components(forecast)

Using the mean hourly fraction for each hour from 0 to 23, we could then convert the daily forecasts into hourly forecasts make submission. This is how our forecasts over the daily data looks like.

# Extract hour, day, month and year from both dataframes to merge for df in [test, forecast]: df['hour'] = df.Datetime.dt.hour df['day'] = df.Datetime.dt.day df['month'] = df.Datetime.dt.month df['year'] = df.Datetime.dt.year # Merge forecasts with given IDs test = pd.merge(test,forecast, on=['day','month','year'], how='left') cols = ['ID','hour','yhat'] test_new = test[cols] # Merging hourly average fraction to the test data test_new = pd.merge(test_new, hourly_frac, left_on = ['hour'], right_index=True, how = 'left') # Convert daily aggregate to hourly traffic test_new['Count'] = test_new['yhat'] * test_new['fraction'] test_new.drop(['yhat','fraction','hour'],axis = 1, inplace = True) test_new.to_csv('prophet_sub.csv',index = False)

This gets a score of 206 on the public leaderboard and does produce a stable model. Readers can go ahead and tweak the hyperparameters (fourier order for seasonality/changeover) to get a better score. Reader could also try and use a different technique to convert the daily predictions to hourly data for submission and may get a better score.

Implementation in R for the same problem statement is given below.

library(prophet) library(data.table) library(dplyr) library(ggplot2) # read data train = fread("Train_SU63ISt.csv") test = fread("Test_0qrQsBZ.csv") # Extract date from the Datetime variable train$Date = as.POSIXct(strptime(train$Datetime, "%d-%m-%Y")) test$Date = as.POSIXct(strptime(test$Datetime, "%d-%m-%Y")) # Convert 'Datetime' variable from character to date-time format train$Datetime = as.POSIXct(strptime(train$Datetime, "%d-%m-%Y %H:%M")) test$Datetime = as.POSIXct(strptime(test$Datetime, "%d-%m-%Y %H:%M")) # Aggregate train data day-wise aggr_train = train[,list(Count = sum(Count)), by = Date] # Visualize the data ggplot(aggr_train) + geom_line(aes(Date, Count)) # Change column names names(aggr_train) = c("ds", "y") # Model building m = prophet(aggr_train) future = make_future_dataframe(m, periods = 213) forecast = predict(m, future) # Visualize forecast plot(m, forecast) # proportion of mean hourly 'Count' based on train data mean_hourly_count = train %>% group_by(hour = hour(train$Datetime)) %>% summarise(mean_count = mean(Count)) s = sum(mean_hourly_count$mean_count) mean_hourly_count$count_proportion = mean_hourly_count$mean_count/s # variable to store hourly Count test_count = NULL for(i in 763:nrow(forecast)){ test_count = append(test_count, mean_hourly_count$count_proportion * forecast$yhat[i]) } test$Count = test_count

Prophet certainly is a good choice for producing quick accurate forecasts. It has intuitive parameters that can be tweaked by someone who has good domain knowledge but lacks technical skills in forecasting models. Readers can also try and fit Prophet directly over the hourly data and discuss in the comments if they are able to get a better result.

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