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Blazing a trail for climate services

Day to day, most of us make decisions based on the weather forecast. But in industries such as transport, renewable energy and food security, people need to look further ahead to what the next season, few years or even decades, could hold. Over the past four years, the Met Office has been coordinating a ground-breaking project to improve climate services in Europe: EUPORIAS.

EUPORIAS, which stands for the European Provision Of Regional Impacts Assessments on Seasonal and decadal timescales, was set up in 2011 to explore how climate forecasts can be turned into services tailored to specific industries. Funded by the European Commission, the project brings together 24 partners – with the Met Office leading the way. These include national meteorological services, universities, energy companies and organisations such as the World Food Programme and the World Health Organisation. Dr Carlo Buontempo, Science Manager at the Met Office, has been coordinating the science of the project since day one.

“The Met Office was seen as a very credible leader for developing climate services,” says Carlo. “We put together a proposal for a four-year work plan and found a strong group of partners to work with. Each has different tasks and deliverables but it’s very much a collaborative project.”

World-leading research

EUPORIAS began by assessing how climate information is currently used in Europe. This included finding out who the main users were and understanding their needs. Carlo points out that such detailed information about what users need from climate predictions over seasonal and decadal timescales has never been gathered before, and is essential for pinning down how services can be improved.

With this vital first step in place, the partners embarked on a research programme focused on improving how climate models are used to make predictions. For example, some looked at how climate models – which run at a lower resolution than short-term weather forecasting models – can be downscaled to zone in on smaller regions. The Met Office explored how to better represent uncertainty from the model when predicting how climate will impact specific users.

Next came the challenge of exploring how this complex information could be presented to people in a variety of industries in a way that helps them make critical operational decisions. This stage was structured around developing a set of six climate-forecasting prototypes for diverse sectors including food security, water security, land management, transport, hydropower and wind energy. Many of these are now semi-operational and, as Carlo explains, demonstrate how important it is to tailor climate services to specific users:

“The needs of, for example, the World Food Programme looking for an early-warning system for drought in Ethiopia are very different from the requirements of West of England farmers planning what crops to plant. Which means, if we created a generic service, they wouldn’t get all the information they need. Through EUPORIAS we’ve found that to be truly useful, climate services have to be targeted.”

A guiding light

As well as boosting the Met Office’s reputation as a leader in climate services, EUPORIAS is a great example of international cooperation which will continue to have a lasting impact. Although the EUPORIAS project ended in October the Met Office will continue to collaborate with international partners. Carlo explains that, in addition to new research, one of the major successes of EUPORIAS has been that the lessons learned can be fed into other climate service initiatives, the world over:

“Even though the aim of EUPORIAS was to be very specific in the prototypes it created, the experience – including how we worked with the users to create the prototypes, and managed their expectations about them – can be applied on a much wider scale. To me, that’s one of the most important legacies of this project.”

Forecasting gets personal

As part of EUPORIAS, six semi-operational forecast services were developed for sectors ranging from water security to renewable energy. We look at two to explore how targeted climate services mean it’s not just what you say, but how you say it that matters.

RESILIENCE: wind speed forecasts for the renewable energy sector

The renewable energy sector had been relying on wind speed forecasts that stretch just two weeks ahead. Working with wind farm operators and energy traders, EUPORIAS identified that longer-term forecasts could really boost the efficiency of their operations. For example, commissioning new wind farms in strong seasons could hasten a return on investment, while planning maintenance for weaker periods could minimise the cost of missed energy generation.

With energy companies running wind farms dotted across the globe, there are lots of users interested in accessing this information. So EUPORIAS landed on an innovative data visualisation that shows the probability of high and low wind speeds on a global, seasonal scale, accessible online.

SPRINT: seasonal weather impact predictions for the UK transport network

From flooding to icy roads, winter weather has a huge impact on the UK transport network. But how do we know if we should stock up on sand bags or grit? Understanding the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), in which strong westerly winds can lead to mild, wet conditions, and weak ones can cause cold, dry weather, is an important factor in seasonal weather forecasts.

With an existing relationship with the Department of Transport, the Met Office explored how the seasonal forecast could better communicate the impact NAO was likely to have on the weather. As the stakeholders here were well defined, developing an online data visualisation, as with the RESILIENCE prototype, was not the best option. Instead, stakeholders could attend an annual workshop ahead of the cold season, where Met Office meteorologists could talk them through the seasonal forecast in detail.

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