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BOX 5-2 Climatic Information Requested by Small Farmers in Central Mexico

• date of onset of rainy season

• quality of rainy season (wetter or drier than "normal")

• 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 season—an 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.

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