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BOX 5-2 Climatic Information Requested by Small Farmers in
• date of onset of rainy season
• quality of rainy season (wetter or drier than
• date of end of rainy season
• frequency and timing of major weather hazard events
• spatial distribution of rainfall
• number and timing of hurricanes
• interpretation of above information in terms of which
crops and varieties to plant, when to plant, etc.
Source: Eakin (1998).
ever, and the forecasts that can be skillfully made are not
always in the necessary time frame for coping. The information that
is useful is specific to the users (see Box 5-2).
Despite these difficulties, climate forecasts have the potential
to improve net social welfare across a broad range of activities
and sectors and at various scales (households and firms,
industries, regions, nations). In principle, skillful climate
prediction can improve outcomes in both good years and bad, thus
raising the long-term average outcomes for future years above the
baseline of the past. Skillful forecasts can help individuals and
organizations prepare better both for extreme negative climatic
events and for less dramatic but more common climate variations,
both negative and positive. Preparedness for the latter climatic
variations can be quite valuable because the consequences of
nonextreme and positive climatic events can be very large in the
aggregate. For example, in addition to the well-publicized damage
wrought by the violent storms attributed to the El Niño
event of 1997-1998, it also brought significant benefits. These
probably include savings in expenses for winter heating throughout
the Northeast, lower oil prices, a longer season for the
construction industry in many regions, fewer storm- and
cold-related deaths in the Northeast, and replenishment of soil
moisture on arid agricultural lands in the Southwest. El
Niño may also have been responsible for the absence of
significant hurricane damage in the Eastern United States during
the 1997 hurricane seasonan economic savings of $5 billion
compared with an average hurricane year (Pielke and Landsea, 1998).
Farmers, builders, homeowners, and managers of municipal emergency
response operations who took optimal action on the basis of climate
forecasts for 1997-1998 would probably have been considerably
better off than those who did not.