THE CLIMATE KELPIE BLOG: Forecasting extreme climate events – new tools help growers to prepare

Posted by BCG on 15th December 2021

From giant hail to unseasonal rain, throughout Queensland and northern New South Wales, there have been plenty of recent extreme weather events.

Wouldn’t it be good to be able to predict when extreme climate events, including extreme high or low rainfall and temperatures, might occur in the weeks and seasons ahead? Those forecasts are now a reality with the recent release of two new Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) tools.

Extreme climate events cause significant fluctuations in annual production and income. Better forecasting of these events will enable growers and millers to be better prepared which is expected to deliver significant economic value.

The Forewarned is Forearmed (FWFA) project has involved the broader agricultural community in testing and refining the new BoM tools to ensure they provide useful information. In total, five tools will be released with the first two now publicly available on the BoM website.

The New Tools

The first of the new tools are maps showing the chance of extreme rainfall, maximum or minimum temperatures. For these maps, extreme is defined as being among the hottest, coldest, wettest and driest 20% of periods.

The second new tools are location-specific ‘decile bars’ that indicate the probability of extreme rainfall, maximum or minimum temperature compared to the usual.

See below for examples of both tools.

Northern New South Wales grower Robert Quirk has been contributing to the project since 2019 as a member of the Sugar Industry Reference Group.

Robert is a regular user of existing BoM and other forecasts, and says he finds the new tools useful as an extra set of information to help his decision making. The forecasts of extreme climate events, weeks and seasons ahead of when they will occur, help Robert with medium- and longer-term strategic planning. 

Northern NSW grower Robert Quirk, one hour short of finishing the harvest, checking the radar.

“Based on the science now and the information from these new tools, I probably won’t plant summer legumes. I’ll wait until March next year and then plant winter legumes because they can stand up to a lot more water at that time,” Robert said.

The new tools do not include a daily forecast, so Robert still uses MetEye, however he acknowledges that it may take time for growers to learn how to read and interpret the information that is now available.

“It might be difficult to get farmers to leave their favourite site that they are using now, because people are always comfortable with what they have been using,” he said.

“And it is always more difficult at the beginning, but it is about learning how to use them so they are added to your repertoire.

See the example and instructions below which are the forecasts that Robert used as part of his decision making.

SRA and the Sugar Industry Reference Group will continue to be involved in the development of the remaining forecasting tools and in supporting growers and millers to use them.

How to use the new tools: an introduction

Open this BoM website page

Overview—Summary – Climate Outlooks (bom.gov.au)

Tool 1: Chances of extreme

Tool 2: Chance of above median

Annotation of images courtesy of Sugar Research Australia

Disclaimer: The BOM website is dynamic so information on the website may have been updated since these images were captured.

Led by Meat and Livestock Australia, the Forewarned is forearmed (FWFA), project runs from 2017-2022 and is supported by funding from the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment as part of its Rural R&D for Profit program, with cash and in-kind support from 14 project partners including SRA, other Rural Research and Development Corporations, the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM), universities and state government departments.

More information

BoM website

Cathy Wies, Head of Industry Communications and Marketing, cwies@sugarresearch.com.au

This article was adapted from the Sugar Research Australia (SRA), CaneConnection magazine.

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