THE CLIMATE KELPIE BLOG: Visualising the impact of climate drivers in your backyard

Posted by BCG on 12th February 2020

When farmers get together, you can guarantee the conversation will turn to rainfall at some stage.

Rain is probably the most important factor in agricultural production, so understanding how particular climate drivers, such as El Niño or the Indian Ocean Dipole, impact on local seasons can help farmers to make more informed decisions to manage climate risk.

Now there’s a new tool that allows farmers to quickly visualise the impact of these climate drivers on local rainfall and plan for what may lie ahead.

The Forecasts for Profit website is designed to help grain growers in south-eastern Australia review rainfall data from the last one-hundred-plus years to better understand how particular climate drivers have affected the probability of wetter or drier seasons in their district.

Photo: Understanding the impact of climate drivers on local seasons can help farmers to make informed decisions to manage climate risk. Source: Lynton Brown.

Understanding climate

 “Through speaking with hundreds of farmers, we know that the best way to understand seasonal forecasts starts with knowing how past events have shaped local seasons,” says Agriculture Victoria’s Graeme Anderson who lead the new project.

“Farmers remember the big dry and wet events, and when they can see the climate driver responsible it encourages them to ask – what is that climate driver doing this year?”

The website was developed by Agriculture Victoria, the South Australian Research and Development Institute and Federation University with Grains Research and Development Corporation investment.

“Most grain growers across the Southern region are aware of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD),” says Dr Peter Hayman, Principal Scientist with the South Australian Research and Development Institute. 

“Growers become especially alert when there are media reports that an El Niño or a Positive IOD is developing in the tropical oceans. What is less clear is what this means for their location and in what months of the year the impact is the greatest.”

New Local Climate Tool

The Forecasts for Profit website draws on The Break suite of tools, which includes The Fast Break seasonal risk newsletter, The Very Fast Break YouTube videos and the seasonal climate webinars.

But the real highlight of the site is the new Local Climate Tool that is designed to inform growers about how the climate drivers influence rainfall at a local level. The tool visually demonstrates the past impact of events like El Niño, La Niña and the positive or negative IOD at each location (Figure 1).

It can be customised to compare rainfall probabilities for the whole year or a shorter window, such as August to October.

Figure 1. The Local Climate Tool makes it easy to visualise the impact of climate drivers on rainfall probabilities in your local area.

The clickable map has two advantages. First, it allows a grower to check a location close to them and drill down to get the historical data, and second, it enables growers, agronomists and all involved in the grains industry to see how the pattern on the wheels are broadly similar across the whole region. 

“While the data for rainfall and categories of ENSO and IOD goes back to 1900, there is more confidence in the categorisation of IOD years since 1960,” Dr Hayman said. “The tool enables users to check the results from either 1900 or 1960. Reassuringly, the general pattern of rainfall probabilities is quite similar for both the shorter and longer time period.”

Visualisation

“One of the real strengths of the tool is that it helps growers to visualise both the hits and misses of the climate drivers on rainfall over the last 100 years,” says Dr Hayman. “For example, an El Niño does not always mean a drought; it just shifts the odds to an increased chance of a drier season and a decreased chance of a wetter season. This can be seen in a historical time series, a pie chart, a horizontal bar chart and as a table of actual rainfall.”

Each of the charts presents the data in a slightly different way to help users understand the impact of different climate drivers. 

One of the key charts compares the probability of different rainfall deciles for each climate driver (Figure 2). Deciles divide rainfall values into ten categories; for instance, decile 1 is the lowest ten per cent of rainfall totals.

Using the example of Roseworthy, SA: when there is a positive IOD there is a 50 per cent chance of decile 1 to 2 rainfall (red) occurring from August to October, rather than a 20 per cent probability when all the years since 1960 are considered. Conversely, during a La Niña year there is less than a 10 per cent chance of decile 1 or 2 rainfall.

Figure 2. The Local Climate Tool highlights the impact of different climate drivers on rainfall decile probabilities. For instance, at Roseworthy, SA, there is a 50 per cent chance of decile 1-2 rainfall in August to October when there is a positive IOD rather than 20 per cent for all years.

The Local Climate Tool is complemented by other resources including The Fast Break climate resources, case studies on how grain growers are using seasonal forecasts and links to other resources and information.

The site even has a quirky Test Your Knowledge section where you can watch highlights from past The Very Fast Break videos and test your understanding with a quiz at the end of each video.

Agriculture Victoria’s Dale Grey is very pleased with the new web resource. “The new web tool is terrific. A rainfall graph that used to take me half an hour to construct in Excel, can now be done by anyone at the touch of a button.”

More information on the Local Climate Tool is available on the Climate Kelpie website.

Contact

Dr Peter Hayman, 08 8429 0426, peter.hayman@sa.gov.au

Graeme Anderson, 03 52264821, graeme.anderson@agriculture.vic.gov.au

Dale Grey, 03 5430 4395, dale.grey@agriculture.vic.gov.au

Jemma Pearl, 0436 922 017, jemma.pearl@agriculture.vic.gov.au

Forecasts for Profit

Local Climate Tool

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