Sections

Services

Information

UK United Kingdom

Seasonal climate forecasts: reading tea-leaves in a digital age

Tea-leaves, entrails, cockatoos: we all want to forecast the future. Weather forecasts have become so commonplace we rarely think about the technology, research, computing power and millions of observations…

It’s getting trickier to forecast future weather, but new models are helping. Jay Wood

Tea-leaves, entrails, cockatoos: we all want to forecast the future. Weather forecasts have become so commonplace we rarely think about the technology, research, computing power and millions of observations behind those couple of words: “mostly sunny”.

It’s not just the family BBQ that is at stake here. Farmers make decisions about planting, fertilising and harvesting worth many hundreds of thousands of dollars based on weather forecasts. Emergency services rally resources on high flood or fire risk days. Energy companies crank up the power if the forecast is hot or cold.

But that’s not enough. They all need to see further into the future than a weather forecast allows, and that’s where a seasonal climate forecast comes in.

Lewis Fry Richardson came up with the idea of numerical weather forecasting in 1922. Back then, his computers were real people in a large room scribbling parts of the calculation on notepads and passing them to messengers and an overall coordinator. A weather forecast starts with Newton’s laws of motion as they apply to gases (the atmosphere) and throws in some basic thermodynamics and the “ideal gas” law. These days, digital computers synthesise millions of observations with Richardson’s mathematical equations on a fine grid covering the entire planet to produce 10-day weather forecasts before morning tea.

But are they any good? In short, yes, and improving all the time. The skill of a seven-day forecast today is equal to the skill of a three-day weather forecast 30 years ago. Put that down to faster computers, more observations, and better techniques for using the observations to start the forecast.

However, beyond ten days, there is a problem. The ability to forecast individual weather systems rapidly decreases due to chaos. What this means is that very small errors in the starting conditions for the model (a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil) can amplify over time and cause large errors. That’s where the ocean comes in.

Water has a much higher heat capacity than air, so the ocean changes its temperature slowly relative to the overlying atmosphere. Once a large patch of ocean becomes warm, it stays warm for many months, influencing weather systems all the while.

A recent example is the 2010-2011 La Niña, where warmer-than-normal ocean temperatures north of Australia contributed to increased rainfall, particularly in Queensland. More generally, ocean surface temperatures in the Pacific and Indian oceans can be linked to rainfall in different parts of the country. The link is made by analysing data going back to 1950 to determine how ocean temperature changes affect rainfall for the following season. This has been the basis of statistical seasonal forecast models such as the Bureau of Meteorology’s Seasonal Climate Outlook.

However, there is an emerging problem. The observations make it clear that the climate is changing and the oceans are warming. The Indian Ocean has warmed by more than half a degree since 1970, and it’s likely that this is affecting its relationship with Australian rainfall.

The past is becoming less of a guide to the future. Statistical models based on these past relationships are gradually losing accuracy and need to be replaced.

The ingredients for a better seasonal forecast are simple: take one weather model, add global models of the ocean, land-surface and sea-ice, add a healthy dash of observations to start it all off and blend at high speed in a supercomputer.

The weather model cannot accurately predict individual weather systems beyond about ten days, but the ocean model ensures that the average behaviour of the individual weather systems is about right for many months into the future. These individual weather systems in turn change the slow-to-respond ocean in a realistic way. The result is a useful forecast of average temperature, rainfall and winds for the next few seasons.

These so-called “coupled ocean-atmosphere global models” are the future of seasonal forecasting. They do not depend on a long history of observations, but instead start from present-day conditions and use physics to divine the future.

As the climate changes, these models adapt because they start from recent observations. Even without the effect of climate change, global coupled models now outperform their simpler statistical counterparts. The seasonal climate outlook has entered the digital age.

Seasonal climate forecasts will never be perfect; there are just too many butterflies out there. But they don’t have to be perfect. In the same way that you can make money betting on dice that you know are loaded, a seasonal forecast can shift the odds in a farmer’s favour. The new breed of seasonal climate forecast will give farmers and others who depend on seasonal climate outlooks the best chance to cope with an uncertain future. And maybe some time to simply sit back and enjoy that cuppa.

Sign in to Favourite

Join the conversation

63 Comments sorted by

  1. Felix MacNeill

    Environmental Manager

    Indeed - a great article and good news.

    I remember soneone once saying that success in business is simple: you only have to be right 60% of the time, but you DO have to be right 60% of the time...in other words, it's always a long game and if you can win a decent percentage more than you lose, then you come out ahead, even though there will be a few losing streaks from time to time. Besides, trying (or expecting) to win every time is a mug's game.

    I think that's the point here: forecasts don't need to be perfect but, so long as they're reliably reasonably 'right' more often than not, they're good enough to be useful. And, given the progress that has been made over the years with things likemid-term forecasting, it seems the best way to get better is to do it and refine it as you go along.

    report
  2. Gerard Dean

    Managing Director

    Mr McIntosh,

    You claim, 'The new breed of seasonal climate forecast will give farmers and others who depend on seasonal climate outlooks the best chance to cope with an uncertain future."

    Well, time to put your predictions to the test. Can you provide a seasonal forecast for my home country, the Wimmera, for the upcoming 2013 wheat cropping season. Then we will wait and see how accurate the forecast does.

    I hope the CSIRO does a better job than our famous Chief Climate Change Commissioner Professor Tim Flannery who claimed in 2007 that Australia would never get dam filling rains again.

    The tractors are filled with diesel and the seed wheat is in the bin, all that is waiting is your seasonal forecast.

    Gerard Dean

    report
    1. Ken Swanson

      Geologist

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      Once again Mike you are spinning.
      The quote Gerrard is referring to are the specific comments about the dams in each state not filling up.
      Selective posting of this link to diffuse Flannery's incorrect claims.
      Usual alarmist game plan.

      report
    2. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to Ken Swanson

      "The quote Gerrard is referring to ..."

      Care to share the link with us Ken.

      report
    3. Gerard Dean

      Managing Director

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      Mr Hansen,

      I am afraid that you are incorrect. Professor Tim Flannery, Chief Climate Commissioner was interviewed by Sally Sara on ABC Landline on the 11/2/2007 and explicitly said, and I directly quote from the transcript -

      "So even the rain that falls isn't actually going to fill our dams and our river systems, and that's a real worry for the people in the bush."

      But that is a small issue, the big issue on this article is that the author, Mr Peter McIntosh, principal research scientist at CSIRO claims that his organisation can provide, and again I quote, a ' new breed of seasonal climate forecast" to help farmers.

      Now it is time for him to tell us the forecast for the Wimmera and we will see how his predictions work out.

      I look forward to Mr McIntosh' 'seasonal climate forecast' for the Wimmera and other agricultural areas around the country.

      Gerard Dean

      report
    4. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to Gerard Dean

      You and Ken need to get your stories straight.

      From the link I supplied
      "So even the rain that falls isn't actually going to fill our dams and our river systems, and that's a real worry for the people in the bush. If that trend continues then I think we're going to have serious problems, particularly for irrigation."

      You both claim that this is not the interview. Why is that? Because neither of you have ever read the original interview in context!

      As I said above
      "I'm Gerard the Dean, Gerard the Dean, straight from Andrew Bolt to you"

      report
    5. Chris O'Neill

      Retired Way Before 70

      In reply to Gerard Dean

      Quotation out of context:

      "So even the rain that falls isn't actually going to fill our dams and our river systems, and that's a real worry for the people in the bush."

      Full quote:

      "We're already seeing the initial impacts and they include a decline in the winter rainfall zone across SOUTHERN AUSTRALIA, which is clearly an impact of climate change, but also a decrease in run-off. Although we're getting say a 20 per cent decrease in rainfall in SOME AREAS OF AUSTRALIA, that's translating…

      Read more
    6. Alice Kelly
      Alice Kelly is a Friend of The Conversation.

      sole parent

      In reply to Gerard Dean

      Rainfall outlook 75% chance of exceeding (1 april to 30 june 2013) 50-100 mm.
      The Rocklands dam seems to have been empty from 2006-2010, Then filled to between 177,000 ml's at the most. and below 100,000 ml, the least. Full is 350,000 ml's. Considering the inflows, they seem to indicate that winter rainfalls do not add much water to this dam any-more, rather, more in spring. How sustainable is this dam now Gerard? Also when was it last full.
      You need to start studying your own patch, and consider the impact of climate change, on the main dam/water supply in
      the Wimmera.

      report
    7. Alice Kelly
      Alice Kelly is a Friend of The Conversation.

      sole parent

      In reply to Gerard Dean

      Gerard, go to Western Region Sustainable Water Strategy,
      http://www.water.vic.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/127648/WRSWS_accessible_linked_final.pdf
      theres an interesting chapter about future climate variability for western victoria, and an explanation for future droughts and flooding in the region.
      Instead of jumping up and down and demanding academics give you the answers now, why don't you figure this stuff out for yourself.
      The internet can be used as a resource, not just a platform.

      report
    8. John Nicol

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Chris O'Neill

      Chris O'Neill,

      I do not understand your comment. The link you gave us seems to me to show that Melbourne has over twice the amount of water available in 2013 than was there in 2007,8,9. Perhaps I have read the diagram wrongly and need some help..

      If I have interpreted the figure correctly, Flannery was quite wrong as he certainly was for the rest of the East coast, and in particular Queensland. John Nicol.

      report
    9. John Nicol

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to John Nicol

      Quotation from Tim Flannery: 2006:
      "SALLY SARA: What will it mean for Australian farmers if the predictions of climate change are correct and little is done to stop it? What will that mean for a farmer?

      PROFESSOR TIM FLANNERY: We're already seeing the initial impacts and they include a decline in the winter rainfall zone across southern Australia, which is clearly an impact of climate change, but also a decrease in run-off. Although we're getting say a 20 per cent decrease in rainfall in some areas of Australia, that's translating to a 60 per cent decrease in the run-off into the dams and rivers. That's because the soil is warmer because of global warming and the plants are under more stress and therefore using more moisture. So even the rain that falls isn't actually going to fill our dams and our river systems, and that's a real worry for the people in the bush. If that trend continues then I think we're going to have serious problems, particularly for irrigation."

      report
    10. Chris O'Neill

      Retired Way Before 70

      In reply to John Nicol

      "Melbourne has over twice the amount of water available in 2013 than was there in 2007,8,9."

      But its dams are not full, in accord with Flannery's forecast.

      "in particular Queensland"

      Since when is Queensland in "SOUTHERN AUSTRALIA"?

      report
    11. John Nicol

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Chris O'Neill

      Dams of large cities are seldom full Chris. We have had extreme floods in Queensland requiring the two major Dams, Wivenhoe and Somerset, to be periodically lowered by releasing water into the Brisbane River. This happened again just last week and may still be ahppening. However, reports from time to time indicate that the dams are 80% full, 86% full etc.just as Melbourne's probably is right now.

      I would point out that Flannery's statement, or one very similar to that quoted, was also made…

      Read more
    12. Craig Somerton

      IT Professional

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      How unusual Mike. I find Gerard's comments always make me think of the Straw Man from The Wizard of Oz.

      report
    13. Chris O'Neill

      Retired Way Before 70

      In reply to John Nicol

      "Dams of large cities are seldom full Chris."

      You never give up, do you?

      The point is Flannery's cited statement http://www.abc.net.au/landline/content/2006/s1844398.htm has NOT been falsified, in direct contradiction of the shamelessly wrong assertions made by people like yourself.

      "we now have a multi-billion dollar desalination plant"

      Which would have been badly needed if the drought in SE Qld had persisted for just ONE year longer. But I'm already aware that you're a risk-taker so your short-sighted attitude is no surprise.

      report
    14. Gerard Dean

      Managing Director

      In reply to Alice Kelly

      Ahh Ms Kelly

      You have finally noticed jet fuel is my thing. Perhaps you may be able to explain the ethical justification for on one hand, claiming you believe in climate change and the need to cut fossil fuel usage, then on the other, burning JetA1 fuel to fly overseas for a holiday.

      Not one person has so far offered an ethical justification for this duplicitous and hypocritical behaviour - the only response is venom and spittle and mocking.

      Thanks for the complement.

      Gerard Dean

      report
    15. Gerard Dean

      Managing Director

      In reply to Chris O'Neill

      Mr O'Neill

      Dishonest! Nothing in the paragraph detracts from my point that Professor Flannery predicted in 2007 that southern Australia would never see river and dam filling rains again.

      Tell that to the flood victims in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.

      Gerard Dean

      report
    16. Chris O'Neill

      Retired Way Before 70

      In reply to Gerard Dean

      "claiming you believe in climate change and the need to cut fossil fuel usage, then on the other, burning JetA1 fuel to fly overseas for a holiday."

      Assuming she actually does that (fly overseas for a holiday), where is it written that that the only fossil fuel is jetfuel?

      "the only response is venom and spittle and mocking"

      You are not telling the truth, to put it mildly.

      report
    17. Gerard Dean

      Managing Director

      In reply to Alice Kelly

      Ms Kelly

      I am afraid you have missed the point of the article. The link you recommended is the "Western Region Sustainable Water Strategy' which has nothing to do with Mr McIntosh' article on seasonal climate forecast.

      Wheat farms are located on the broad flat lands of the Wimmera in Victoria as well as similar areas in South and West Australia. They virtually never flood, at least not in white mans time.

      Wheat farmers will soon have to judge how much wheat, oats, barley and oil crops to grow. Part of the decision process is based on the timing and amount of rainfall expected.

      Mr McIntosh claims that the CSIRO can now help farmers '..cope with an uncertain future' by providing seasonal climate forecasts.

      Wheat farmers across Australia want to know how much rain they will get and when they will get it during the growing season.

      Mr McIntosh claims he can do it - all we need is for him to tell us where we can get the information from the CSIRO.

      Gerard Dean

      report
    18. Gerard Dean

      Managing Director

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      You are losing the battle Mr Hansen.

      Gerard Dean

      report
    19. Gerard Dean

      Managing Director

      In reply to Chris O'Neill

      Mr O'Neill

      There is only one jet fuel, and that is JetA1 fossil fuel refined from crude oil.

      Sure, 'They" are "Working On It' but thus far nothing - coal to oil to jet fuel, peanut oil to jet fuel, algae to jet fuel or dog poo to jet fuel is commercially manufactured or used.

      Until the dog poo or cooking oil or algae can be lift an A380 into the sky, I am afraid that every time you fly overseas for a holiday, you have deliberately put your own pleasure before the good of the planet.

      And that Sir, is a very, very bad thing.

      Gerard Dean

      report
    20. Gerard Dean

      Managing Director

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      Perhaps Mr Hansen can offer a cogent ethical basis for choosing to burn JetA1 fossil fuel whilst claiming to believe in climate change and the need to cut fossil fuel usage.

      I will be waiting a long time.

      Gerard Dean

      report
    21. Chris O'Neill

      Retired Way Before 70

      In reply to Gerard Dean

      "Professor Flannery predicted in 2007 that southern Australia"

      It's good that you're slowly getting more accurate. At least you included "southern" this time. Who knows, you might even say "winter rainfall zone across SOUTHERN AUSTRALIA" some day.

      Here is a catchment in the winter rainfall zone of southern Australia: http://www.melbournewater.com.au/content/water_storages/water_report/zoom_graph.asp

      Notice how it failed to fill up even with two La Nina years in a row? That's what Flannery was talking about.

      "Tell that to the flood victims in Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland."

      Another clown who thinks Queensland is in the winter rainfall zone of southern Australia.

      report
    22. Chris O'Neill

      Retired Way Before 70

      In reply to Gerard Dean

      "There is only one jet fuel"

      Apparently you're running a Gish gallop here because the issue was CO2 emissions (from all sources obviously) and here you're talking about a resource depletion issue.

      How plainly dishonest of you.

      report
    23. Alice Kelly
      Alice Kelly is a Friend of The Conversation.

      sole parent

      In reply to Gerard Dean

      No, Gerard I don't think I have missed the point of the article, you have demanded an answer for the seasonal outlook of the wimmera, which is 1st. April- 30th. june a 75% chance of exceeding 50-100mm rainfall. I don't know what you really expect from the bureau , this information is easily found, beyond this this long range forecasts can't divine the exact storm which will help with germination. Nor can it provide exactly what will happen on a particular farm. Local knowledge helps with some of…

      Read more
    24. John Nicol

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Alice Kelly

      Alice Kelly,

      The point that Gerard, others and I are making is just as you have described, that: “long range forecasts can't divine the exact storm which will help with germination. Nor can it provide exactly what will happen on a particular farm. Local knowledge helps with some of the guess-work but the point of the article is that more variables are now used such as ocean temperature to enhance the accuracy of the seasonal outlook.”

      It is no use that a forecast with a one day, three day…

      Read more
    25. Alice Kelly
      Alice Kelly is a Friend of The Conversation.

      sole parent

      In reply to John Nicol

      JN
      The country I'm more sure of is Eyre Peninsula, where no conventional ploughing has been done for at least 15 years and more, to increase moisture content of soils and hold some cover/pasture over the soils. The yields have proven to be better than before, even in a below average year. I don't believe expecting Bom to have all the answers (when exactly) is possible. I said as much above. If you have to be patronising, go ahead, But do try to read, and comprehend what your reading. This is the…

      Read more
  3. Marian Macdonald

    logged in via Twitter

    As a farmer, the seasonal forecasts drive me mad. In my part of Australia, they have less than 50% confidence during the critical decision-making period of early autumn. In other words, if the Bureau predicts it's going to be wet, it's more likely to be dry. Given that lack of reliability, the Bureau should refrain from issuing a forecast at all.

    report
    1. Alice Kelly
      Alice Kelly is a Friend of The Conversation.

      sole parent

      In reply to Marian Macdonald

      Thats interesting Marion, I've never noticed that one. So only the green areas can reliably be used, to use the probability charts. I don't know what you can use then. How has the 75% probability worked for the last couple of years, it's worked reasonably well for me.M aybe you have to translate that one as 50%
      I'm still looking for a seriously old fella to teach me weather for the long term. There did used to be people with these skills in this country. I suspect here they don't exist any-more.

      report
    2. Marian Macdonald

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Alice Kelly

      Well, if they have a 45% or less chance of getting it right, there's still a real chance they will strike it lucky! But imagine this:

      You: "Is that animal over there a bull or a cow?"
      Me: "Bull"
      You: "How do you know?"
      Me: "Actually, I don't. In fact, when I try to guess whether animals are cows or bulls, I get it wrong more often than I get it right, so, statistically speaking, it's probably a cow."

      Absurd? Well, that's what the BoM is doing when it issues seasonal forecasts for enormous chunks of Australia. Even more remarkable (though noble) is that the bureau then publishes the verification maps to detail the worthlessness of the original forecast. It's like something out of Yes Prime Minister - Sir Humphrey would be most proud.

      report
    3. Mike Hansen

      Mr.

      In reply to Marian Macdonald

      Hi Marian

      While BOM bashing is a long standing tradition among Australian farmers, I think you are missing the point a little.

      The point of the "Yes Minister" verification chart is provided in the attached information. (click on that "i" button)
      "Regions with scores above 50% (i.e., those areas coloured in shades of green) are where the Seasonal Outlook has performed better than chance, and hence are areas where using the Seasonal Outlook may provide value for decision making."

      In other…

      Read more
    4. Marian Macdonald

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Mike Hansen

      I think you've reiterated my comment really nicely, Mike.

      The problem is that while the seasonal outlook is really well known and publicised, the "Yes Minister" chart is little-known and people rely on forecasts issued by forecasters who know their predictions are worthless.

      Like you, I am a fan of the BoM but issuing a Seasonal Outlook in places where they know they have no accuracy whatsoever is very misleading.

      report
    5. John Nicol

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Marian Macdonald

      Spot on Marion. I know a lot of very successful farmers and some who are struggling from past difficulties including drought. However, I do not know any who would be stupid enough to plant on the forcast by the BOM. Having just looked at their own map of “success” – noting that Victoria has almost zero success anywhere – I find that for most of the Darling Downs the best is 55% and some 60%. This presumably includes forecasts of “scattered showers and thunder storms” which does NOT mean that…

      Read more
    6. John Nicol

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Alice Kelly

      Alice,

      I may be a bit colour blind, in fact I am, but it appears to me from the chart that only a small coastal region along the NSW coast (Sydney perhaps) makes it to that level of 75% - the scale is not all that clear, and I presume that the top darkest green is 75% and the very lowest bit 40% which seems to refer to well over 3/4 of the Australian continent. One would think that in central Australia, a call of fine, fine fine, all year would net them a score of better than 50%!

      report
    7. Alice Kelly
      Alice Kelly is a Friend of The Conversation.

      sole parent

      In reply to Marian Macdonald

      So don't use it Marian. I'm not interested in bulls and cows. My horticultural endeavours are devoted to less winter rain here. This seems to have been happening according to "the locals" over the last 25 years. I'm extremely cynical so don't rely on bom for what I do. But I have found its service to be more than less reliable for here in lower SE au. Changing what I can, and minimising risk works for me, that's all.

      report
    8. Alice Kelly
      Alice Kelly is a Friend of The Conversation.

      sole parent

      In reply to John Nicol

      John, it was the 75% probability map I was talking about with Marian (used instead of 50%), due to her particular position on the verification map above. All the green in that map, most of NSW, indicates that probability maps can reliably be used. She lives in one of the white regions, in victoria, which are compromised predictively.

      report
    9. Gerard Dean

      Managing Director

      In reply to John Nicol

      Gentlemen,

      You have made an excellent point in that few farmers would put their trust and plant on a forecast from BOM.

      But, Mr McIntosh claims the new CSIRO Seasonal Climate Forecast will, and I quote, 'a seasonal forecast can shift the odds in a farmer’s favour.'

      In the interests of science, I suggest that Mr McIntosh provides these new Seasonal Climate Forecasts to us so we can check their accuracy during the year.

      If they prove reasonably accurate, I am sure farmers will be happy to rely on them in the future.

      The funny thing is that nobody, including Mr McIntosh has provided the relevant Seasonal Climate Forecasts for the Wimmera wheat farmers as yet.

      Hope to see it soon.

      Gerard Dean

      report
  4. Mark Lawson

    senior journalist at Australian Financial Review

    I have no particular quarrel with the article, but I would be much happier with it, if it had said something about the success of BoM's seasonal forecasts to date for East and West Aus. I know that the UK Met office has had a very poor reputation in this regard to date - in fact, I was under the impression that seasonal forecasts by anyone had a success rate of little better than chance - but I recall reading last year that the UK's BoM were saying that they had lifted its game. Happy to be corrected on any of that - particularly as the La Nina-El Nino cycle can't be forecast, they can only spot it coming - so what's BoM's strike rate and how is it scored and how does it compare internationally?

    report
    1. Mark Lawson

      senior journalist at Australian Financial Review

      In reply to Marian Macdonald

      Marian - look thanks for that but the map you linked me to says it is assessing rainfall (forecasts?) for March-April, and we're still in March. I think its saying that the matches are pretty good half way through, which is fair enough. I'm talking about looking back on seasonal results, season by season for broad areas, and matching them with actual results over a number of years. The only assessment like that I ever saw, a few years back, reflected poorly on the UK Met Office but, as I said, I'm happy to be corrected.

      report
    2. Marian Macdonald

      logged in via Twitter

      In reply to Mark Lawson

      Hi Mark,

      Have a read of the BoM's explanation ( http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/ahead/about-sco-verif.shtml ) - here's an excerpt:

      "These pages provide information on the simple success rate of the Seasonal Climate Outlook if it had been run over the 50-year period from 1950 to 1999. The score used (percentage consistent) is simply the number of times that the category favoured by the outlook (e.g. drier conditions) was subsequently observed, divided by the total number of years. Scores for both individual season and the full hindcast period (all seasons) are available here. Information is also provided for the full period from 2000 to the present. This is called the forecast period."

      As I understand it, the white areas of map mean that the forecast in those areas has no accuracy based on long-term observations.

      report
    3. John Nicol

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Marian Macdonald

      That chart is very depressing. In our area of SW Qld they only claim less than 45%! But it is interesting to see that the Monsoon area provides some lucky forecasting - when the Monsoon moves down it stays down for a week or even a month or more which gives an opportunity to forecast tomorrow based on what happened today. I think this is more accurate than all of the models will ever be.

      report
    4. John Nicol

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Mark Lawson

      Mark,

      I do not have access to them now, but I have seen the Australia wide forecasts for the last three months of 2011 and again for the first three months of 2012 together with their comparison with the eventual rainfall. The first of these - Oct, Nov<Dec, 2011 was a real shocker with most ares proving to be th exact opposite of the forecasts. Jan, Feb, Mar 2012 was a little better but not much and certainly had the SE corner of Queensland completely wrong. I am therefore very unsure as to where Peter draws his optimistic conclusions.
      John Nicol

      report
    5. Mark Lawson

      senior journalist at Australian Financial Review

      In reply to Marian Macdonald

      Marian
      that's better but its hind casting. It doesn't count.For a proper comparison you have to go back and see what was said before the period concerned, then compare that with the actual result, season by season.. Although success in hind casting is of some interest, the only real test is getting something right that was not known at the time.

      But doesn't a system's success in hind casting mean that it will be good at forecasting? That's an assumption and the people who actually study forecasting systems say its not right.(there is a site somewhere on forecasting principles..)

      But thanks for the various links.. interesting to see what BoM had..

      report
    6. Gerard Dean

      Managing Director

      In reply to Mark Lawson

      Mr Lawson

      Perhaps you might be able to help on this one. Mr McIntosh, the author of this fine article claims the CSIRO's new Seasonal Climate Forecasts can, and I quote, '....can shift the odds in a farmer’s favour.'

      The article has aroused much interest, however there is one thing missing, Mr McIntosh has provided no information, despite many requests, as to how we can access the forecasts.

      All we need to is watch how the CSIRO Seasonal Climate Forecast matches reality during the year to gain an idea of how helpful it will be to farmers.

      Do you know where we can get these wonderful new Seasonal Climate Forecasts?

      Gerard Dean

      report
  5. Phil Dolan

    Viticulturist

    I love BOM. It's not perfect, but it really is a great help and it will get better as time rolls on.
    I don't expect a BOM person to come to my vineyard and tell me what hours it's going to rain and what humidity it will be at 3pm next Tuesday week. It's a tool that helps me decide what to do. I still have to think.

    Are you listening Gerard?

    The person who sells you a toolkit will not fix your tractor for you. Won't even tell you if it needs fixing.

    report
    1. John Nicol

      logged in via email @bigpond.com

      In reply to Phil Dolan

      Phil, that may be OK for grapes which are not planted every year. I don't think even the BOM would claim to get the humidity right - even though that could be a useful tool in optimising the spraying of weeds on a farm.

      report
    2. Alice Kelly
      Alice Kelly is a Friend of The Conversation.

      sole parent

      In reply to John Nicol

      John, I think Phils point is that he uses his brain. All farmers are gamblers. Changing conditions demand farmers become better informed, change practices, stocking, crops whatever. To minimise risks. Pointing out boms predictive vulnerabilities doesn't get the the work or better decisions done, to mitigate the impact of climate.
      Gambling on the weather, means using and enacting all information to better the chances for any year. Hoping "the rains ll come" this year doesn't help at all.
      The last episode of the recent "The Dust Bowl", on SBS , was fantastic, did you see it.

      report
    3. Gerard Dean

      Managing Director

      In reply to Phil Dolan

      Mr Dolan

      You appear to miss the point. You say the BOM is fantastic for viticulturists like yourself which is great. I believe that vines are susceptible to a variety of weather events such as frost, which BOM is great at predicting. In a similar vein, we often hear of the Sheep Weather Alert which helps our rich pastorlists in western Victoria tend new born lambs in spring.

      Wheat farming is a little different. Wimmera wheat farmers crave longer term rainfall information such as how much and when. Frost and rough weather won't break a wheat farmer, drought does.

      That is why I believe that Mr McIntosh article is of special interest to wheat farmers. In fact he claims that the new 'Seasonal Climate Forecasts' will help '...shift the odds in the farmers favour.'

      All I want to know is, where can we find the new CSIRO "Seasonal Climate Forecasts'

      Surely this is not an unreasonable request when billions of agricultural output is at risk of climate change.

      Gerard Dean

      report
  6. Gerard Dean

    Managing Director

    Will someone, anyone, please tell us where we can access the new CSIRO 'Seasonal Climate Forecast' described in Mr McIntosh' article, "Seasonal climate forecasts: reading tea-leaves in a digital age"

    Thanks

    Gerard Dean

    report
  7. Peter McIntosh

    Principal Research Scientist, Marine & Atmospheric Research at CSIRO

    There are a number of points I'd like to respond to:

    The updated seasonal climate outlook referred to in this article is not yet available, but the fact that it is being discussed is a good sign. It is only fair to leave it to BoM to make the announcement.

    There is already a wealth of information available on the BoM's web site from POAMA, the model used to produce the new seasonal outlook. The real time forecasts are protected by a password, but anyone with a genuine reason (such as running…

    Read more
  8. ian cheong

    logged in via email @acm.org

    I presume scientists have proper statistical analysis of reliability of forecasting. I read that weather forecasts were about 70% accurate at 3 days out, declining fast after that. Peter, do you have some data on reliability of season climate forecasts? How does a seasonal climate forecast 3 years out compare with a daily weather forecast 3 days out? Do you think the general public can cope with statistics?

    report
  9. Peter McIntosh

    Principal Research Scientist, Marine & Atmospheric Research at CSIRO

    It turns out I am not permitted to make freely available the published version of an article on using seasonal forecasts in the wheat industry in WA. However, I am allowed to provide a link to a post-print that has been through the refereeing process but does not yet have final editorial approval. The article may be found here: tinyurl.com/WAGrainStudy

    report