GENEVA – The global need to cope with climate change is fueling a desire to make climate forecasts as common as weather forecasts, U.S. officials attending a U.N. conference said Wednesday.
Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration that creates weather forecasts for the United States, said the world needs better ways to share information about climate change.
"We're seeing now a convergence between what users are beginning to ask for and the ability of the scientific community to provide something on a scale and in a fashion that is relevant to what the users need," Lubchenco told The Associated Press.
She said the World Climate Conference, with up to 2,000 people from 150 nations attending in Geneva this week, is "critically important" in the effort to create such a climate forecast system and deal with other needs arising from global warming.
Predicting climate — forecasting general weather patterns over a period of months or longer — will help countries adapt to climate change that will happen because of greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere regardless of any future agreements to limit carbon emissions.
Lubchenco, who heads a delegation of nearly 50 U.S. scientists and officials at the conference, said in an AP interview that climate forecasters will help decision-makers ranging from farmers planning what crops to plant to city planners and national legislators.
"Farmers are certainly a good example of who need information about climate, but so too might be water managers for a city or city planners for a coastal community — 'Where should we grow and in what direction?'" she said.
Forecasts will also provide long-term guidance on how high to build bridges to protect them from storm surges.
"Climate services is a new concept," said Thomas Karl, director of NOAA's National Climate Data Center. "In the past there wasn't a recognition that the climate community could provide information which you could base decisions on."
He said in a separate AP interview that planners hope that "within a year or two we can actually have a framework" for climate services so that they can work out how to deliver the information in a coordinated way.
"You get a weather forecast and people count on it because they take action on it, plans, emergency management. We want to do the same thing for climate services."
The climate predictions would be a month, a season or even decades ahead, he said.
Karl said weather forecasts have pretty good predictability up to 10 days, but after that it becomes difficult to say when a certain type of weather will occur on a given day.
Climate forecasts will tend to say things like August will have an 80 percent likelihood of a very severe heat wave, while a weather forecast would predict a certain high temperature for a certain day.
Karl said the United States can already make some climate predictions accurately.
"Like right now we've got an El Nino occurring," he said, referring to the phenomenon of warmer seas in the eastern Pacific that change weather patterns around the world.
NOAA has "good skill during these conditions" in forecasting the amount of winter precipitation in the southeastern United States and West Coast.
"But sometimes the science isn't there and there may be limits to our predictability," Karl said.
He said the climate conference's moves toward better sharing of weather information among countries will be a big help.
"All the information that's collected around the world goes into initializing these models, and the more data the more information we get the better these models are," Karl said.