Engaging communities by turning climate model output into music

Located approximately 80 km (50 miles) off the west coast of Scotland, the Outer Hebrides is a chain of islands 200 km (125 miles) in length consisting of five major islands and 10 smaller islands connected by local ferries or causeway roads. To the west, the nearest landmass is Newfoundland in Canada, while to the southwest it is the Caribbean and South America. As a result, the Outer Hebrides is an exposed region with respect to Atlantic weather, principally westerly and south westerly low-pressure weather systems (including associated rough seas) particularly during winter.

Previous research looking at weather patterns and the UK Climate Projections (UKCP) Global ensemble has indicated that future UK winters would be stormier, particularly under a high emissions scenario. The present-day weather, particularly winter storms already influences daily life, and as such it was important to engage the islanders with the future changes in climate, and utilise their knowledge in understanding required adaptations to changes in climate for the islands. To achieve this a project was devised to combine Met Office science from UKCP with local knowledge. 

Firstly, it was important to understand the current exposure of the islands to impactful winter storms. To identify when more impactful storms occurred in the present-day climate, we used the occurrence of any Named Storm or a National Severe Weather Warnings Service (NSWWS) warning of Amber or Red that impacted on the Outer Hebrides. The days of these occurrences were then matched to the corresponding weather pattern from the Met Office 30 Static Weather Patterns for that day. Based on this analysis, six weather patterns were identified as being aligned with the occurrence of impactful winter storms, and these are shown in Figure 1. As expected, the patterns are predominantly westerly or south-westerly in their wind direction.

Figure 1 – The six weather patterns sub-selected from the 30 weather patterns described in Neal et al. (2016).

Future changes in these weather patterns during winter (December-February) were taken from the work of Pope et al. (2022) for two emissions scenarios: a low emissions scenario representative of a future with large reductions in greenhouse gases, and a high emissions scenario with little reductions in greenhouse gases. By the end of the 21st Century, under the low emissions scenario there were negligible simulated changes in the six weather patterns, whilst under the high emissions scenario, there was on average, a 39% increase in the frequency of these six stormy patterns, equivalent to an additional 9 stormy days per winter. This underpinning science has then supported the Climate Rationale and Case for Action documents by the Outer Hebrides Community Planning Partnership’s (OHCPP) Climate Change Working Group.

There was a strong desire for this work to be more than a science report to ensure that the likely future changes in winter storms could be communicated to the community. To this end, a group led by Matthew Logan (Community Energy Scotland) on behalf of the Làn Thìde Climate Beacon partnership secured funding from the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) “Growing Roots in Public Engagementand the Scottish Community Climate Action Network (SCCAN) “Prospects and Pockets” fund. With additional support from Adaptation Scotland, a competitive tender was advertised to commission an artist to work on the project. Outer Hebrides resident Sandra Kennedy was successful in her application in January 2022. The artist’s work was to be the centrepiece of online and in-person public meetings and events to drive conversations around the impact future changes in climate could have on different locations around the Outer Hebrides.

Sandra’s plan combined the lived experiences of the community with music created from UKCP model data. Using both a series of open meetings and private interviews with sessions in English and Gaelic, Sandra explored the lives of people on the islands, their experiences of the current winter storms and how the weather impacts on their livelihoods. In particular, there was excellent engagement with members of the fishing community. There were also people’s personal recollections from the storm of January 2005, which tragically claimed the life of a young family. Interviewees reflected on both the impact of that and their own recollections of the night.

With a range of interviews conducted, Sandra set about creating the music to accompany them. The plan was to take data from the UKCP Regional climate model, however the initial effort to use a 20-year slice of daily winter data resulted in a piece of music that was over 30 minutes long! Working together, Sandra and Met Office scientist Dr James Pope found a solution whereby the weekly average values for temperature, rainfall and wind speed were produced. Whenever a weekly average rainfall was greater than 70mm, then that week was expanded back to use the daily data. This created a rhythmical pattern to the music that communicated the occurrence of a storm event, dovetailing with the experiences of the community. Three pieces known collectively as "Tuil is Geil” (Gaelic for “Flood and Wind”) were created: “Historical Events”, “Lifestyles and Habits” and “Livelihoods and Work” using different pieces of data and community experiences.

To trial using these pieces, two initial engagement events were advertised, the first in-person and a second virtual event. Events were again advertised via the Làn Thìde website and the Western Isles Libraries network. The sessions were designed to last between 90 and 120 minutes, with the three pieces spaced throughout the meeting. A second component was the presentation of the underpinning science followed by a Q&A on the science, enabling the participants to increase their understanding of the future changes in winter storms. Finally, drawing on their learning from the science and the impact of the music pieces, participants were asked to then identify areas for adaptation by identifying:

  • What/who do you want to protect in future?
  • Where is it/are they located?
  • Why is it/are they vulnerable?

Participants then identified strengths the islanders could bring, actions that were required and areas for adaptation. The feedback was collated on a map of the islands, shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2 - A digitised version of the responses from the in-person discussion session (left). The right-hand image displays the original board responses from the in-person session (note the pink post-it notes are orange in the digitised version).

Since then, an online event and additional in-person events have been held. The music pieces and science presentation provide the OHCPP Climate Change Working Group and Làn Thìde with a new and innovative tool to communicate future climate trends and projections in a way that is interesting and accessible, to generate discussion and gather local knowledge and lived experience to inform adaptation planning activities.

Both for the authors and our respective organisations, the Tuil is Geil storyline was a new approach to a long-standing problem; engaging a local community with the need for climate change adaptation. Reviewing the project, there were important lessons learned to feed into future projects in this space, which focussed primarily on the importance of working with local partner networks and managing expectations. There were also useful learnings about ensuring a strong working partnership between the scientist and the artist, with both having an equal voice in the decision making.

Tuil is Geil was an output that was created by a Hebridean artist for the Hebridean community, and certainly different regions will require different approaches. It is hoped that this work will inspire others and that the lessons learned will enable people to build on what was produced in the Outer Hebrides. Full details on the project are available from the publication in the journal Climate Services here – Pope et al. (2023).



Neal et al. (2016) A flexible approach to defining weather patterns and their application in weather forecasting over Europe. https://doi.org/10.1002/met.1563

Pope et al. (2022) Investigation of future climate change over the British Isles using weather patterns. https://doi.org/10.1007%2Fs00382-021-06031-0

Pope, J.O., Logan, M., Kennedy, S., MacDonald, K. Matthews, A., Milne, K., & Pratt, E. (2023) Musical messages – Creating a bespoke climate story for the Outer Hebrides. Climate Services. 32. 100407. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cliser.2023.100407