What to do with a Seasonal Forecast

This year’s Climate and Society class is out in the field (or lab or office) completing a summer internship or thesis. They’ll be documenting their experiences one blog post at a time. Read on to see what they’re up to.

By Kelli Armstrong, Climate and Society 2014

Short-term forecasts are awesome! Weather forecasts for sunshine and rain are distributed daily with accurate probabilities. Using this information, you can better decide which days you should walk to work with an umbrella. Though we usually don’t think of an umbrella as a risk mitigation tool, it is. After all, getting wet in the rain is essentially being impacted by a weather event and using an umbrella is mitigating that impact on a personal level.

Of course there are more serious impacts from weather and climate events than damp clothes. Heavy rain, drought, tropical storms and more can all have serious consequences, but those consequences can be mitigated through more long-term planning.

The key to planning is identifying climate trends and impacts and what appropriate preparedness actions we can execute in a timely manner. For weather events like the current trend of rainy afternoons, an appropriate preparedness action would be to keep an umbrella handy. But what can we do for climate events during the hurricane season, for example?

Decision tree for disaster management in the water sector.

Decision tree for disaster management in the water sector.

Seasonal forecast products and information offer one avenue for planning. Though the accuracy of seasonal forecasts is not as good as weather forecasts, they can still be extremely useful for disaster risk reduction planning in a number of sectors. The reason for this is that they give disaster managers one way to gauge[1] how active a given season will be and react accordingly.

Second, any big picture climate trends need to be identified. For example, September is typically the most active month in the Atlantic hurricane season so resources to respond to hurricanes could be appropriated accordingly to cover anticipated impacts. As the month of September draws nearer, the transition from seasonal forecasts to weekly and daily ones can help to clarify how likely it is for a hurricane to develop and further inform planning and response.

Third, we need to identify preparedness actions. There are a number of activities that can greatly contribute to disaster risk reduction before hurricane season even starts. Investments in long-term preparedness, such as training disaster response teams, will benefit communities for years to come. During the season, the shift to more feasible short-term actions, like communicating shelter and evacuation information, will take precedence to further mitigate negative impacts on communities.

Finally, and most importantly, we need to execute these preparedness actions in a timely manner to reap the benefits. Taking this kind of initiative significantly contributes to disaster risk reduction and makes disaster response smoother. At the very least, this information means people will be better educated about the risk, and able to prepare ahead of time instead of seeking information and supplies at the final hour.

See, it’s just like the daily weather forecast and an umbrella!


[1] Speaking of “gauge”, refer to Figure 1: An example of the kinds of alerts that can be issued using seasonal forecast information for disaster risk reduction in the water sector (original figure by Author, Kelli Ashley Armstrong).


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