Weather forecasting’s role in managing water resources

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Improvements in long-range weather forecasting hold out the possibility to improve water resource management around the world, but Professor Steve queries if they are being used as effectively as they might.

Professor Rayner, the James Martin Professor of Science and Civilization at Oxford University, will present a free lecture “Are weather forecasts still for wimps?” at Flinders University Victoria Square at 4pm today (Tuesday, November 26).

He said that historically there have been factors which have held back the use of long-term forecasting as a tool.

Long range weather forecasts, which operate over 30 to 180 day cycles, often fell between the immediate short term needs of water managers and the decade-long predictions needed to guide major infrastructure such as dams.

Often the forecasts were too “coarse”, and applied to multi-state areas rather than giving specifics about rainfall for individual catchments.

There were institutional factors too: “Water managers tend to like to remain unseen, and to avoid risks,” Professor Rayner said.

“While they welcome efficiencies, their greatest nightmare is for people to turn on the tap and have nothing come out, or for the water to be dirty or smelly.”

More recently, Professor Rayner said, improvements in the accuracy of forecasts as well as better trained and more technically knowledgable staff are making weather modelling potentially more useful.

Professor Rayner’s current research spans the US, the UK, Belize, Kenya, India and Australia.

“With the prevalence of floods, drought and fires, this research has special relevance to Australia.”

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