Joanne Camp, Climate Applications Scientist
1 August 2011
The Met Office employs professionals and experts who are constantly expanding the boundaries of weather and climate prediction. Here we meet one of them...
After graduating with a BSc in Meteorology from the University of Reading, Joanne Camp joined the Met Office in 2008 as a Climate Applications Scientist. Since then she's played a major role in developing seasonal predictions of tropical storm activity in the North Atlantic.
It was family holidays to America that first got Joanne Camp interested in tropical storms. She'd watch hours of hurricane reports on the weather channel, fascinated by the devastation that they could cause. Years later, when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, she found herself once again transfixed by the destructive power of hurricanes.
As a Research Scientist in the Monthly to Decadal Prediction group, Joanne's work focuses on long-range seasonal predictions of tropical storms. One of the most challenging - and also most exciting - parts of her job happens when a tropical storm starts heading towards land. At times like these, Joanne is part of a small team of scientists who liaise closely with the press office to provide guidance about communicating the forecast: "We've got to make sure that the message the Met Office gives out is clear and consistent. Our aim is to provide warnings that are as accurate as possible, as early as possible."
"I'm proud to say that the Met Office is one of only a small number of centres across the world using dynamical models."
Joanne also works on the development of seasonal tropical prediction products to provide forecasts for North Atlantic tropical storm activity ahead of the forthcoming season. This work provides information for both the general public and businesses. A forecast for the total number of tropical storms and Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) index - a measure of the collective intensity and duration of storms during the season - is released each May on the Met Office website. But a more detailed prediction is also prepared for commercial customers, which provides in-depth forecasts, as well as exploring the factors that could affect tropical storm activity. As part of the service, Joanne and her team hold teleconferences with clients: "It's important that we work closely with clients - that they can ask us questions and we can give them feedback straight away."
These products are potentially very useful to big businesses, especially in the insurance industry where the forecasts would constitute an important component in assessing the risk of losses.
Predicting the future
Since the Monthly to Decadal Prediction group started predicting tropical storms in 2007, it has been very successful. In fact, all forecasts have been within the range predicted - even in more extreme years. In 2008 for example, they predicted a high level of storm activity - 15 storms between July and November - all of which happened. Again, last year was also a very active season. 20 storms were predicted and 19 occurred.
Joanne puts the accuracy of the predictions down to the use of dynamical models such as GloSea4 (the Met Office Global Seasonal Forecasting system). Most seasonal forecasts of Atlantic tropical storm numbers are produced using statistical-empirical models that only look back at what has happened previously.
"I'm proud to say that the Met Office is one of only a small number of centres across the world using dynamical models - numerical models based on the laws of physics - to predict future tropical storm activity."
The same models are used for global weather and climate prediction. With regard to tropical storms, they are particularly effective at picking up changes in activity from year to year. This, Joanne believes, is the future for seasonal forecasting, and is the main focus of her development work.
"We're working towards improving these models and their resolution so we can increase the accuracy of our forecasting now and in the future."