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climate forecasts to be useful in the near term, they must present information that is relevant and timely in terms of the coping strategies that recipients are likely to use. (In the longer term, it may help to devise new coping strategies.) There is little systematic knowledge at present for matching activities, sectors, and actors with their informational needs. However, the following attributes of climate forecast information are among those it is important to match.



Timing, lead time, and updating. When a forecast is made can have great importance for decisions. One factor is whether or not the forecast is available before key decisions must be made. For example, crop yield forecasts are much more useful to farmers if they are made before the crop is planted; storm and flood forecasts are much more valuable if they are made before insurance policy renewal dates. Another important factor is lead time. For example, if it takes a certain number of weeks or months to get a famine relief system functioning, forecasts will be much more valuable if they provide at least that much lead time. Finally, the usefulness of a forecast may depend on how frequently it is updated and how well recipients understand the implications of updating, because forecasts often improve in accuracy as time passes and their implications for action may change. Obviously, the necessary timing, lead time, and frequency of updating depend on the decision that a forecast might affect.



Climate parameters. Climate forecasts typically provide estimates of average temperature or precipitation for a future month or season. However, these are not always the most decision-relevant parameters. Indian farmers want to know when the monsoon will begin—an estimate climate forecasters may not be able to provide—at least as much as they want to know the total precipitation during the monsoon season. Public health officials may want estimates of the average or lowest daily minimum temperature for the breeding season of a disease vector that is sensitive to that parameter. Citrus growers are also concerned with the minimum temperature parameter. Number of days reaching above or below a certain temperature may be a concern to public health and safety officials who wish to prevent deaths from heat stress or hypothermia in vulnerable populations. Some decision makers might find it useful to have estimates of other parameters, such average cloud cover, likelihood of storms producing rainfall greater than certain levels, or length of growing season. The most important climate parameters for decision making clearly depend on the decision. Some decision makers may benefit greatly from estimates of climate parameters that are not currently being offered but that could be provided with skill if climate scientists made the effort to do so.

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