Predicting the climate, from season to season

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“Climate is made of weather”. On the World Meteorological Day, climatologist Silvio Gualdi, director of the Climate Simulations and Predictions division at the CMCC Foundation, talks about the potential use of climate predictions in a wide range of economic sectors and tells how CMCC has become an international benchmark offering climate forecasts on time scales ranging from a few weeks to ten years. 

Every year on 23 March, the World Meteorological Day commemorates the coming into force of the Convention that established the World Meteorological Organization in 1950. Meteorology and climatology are two distinct but closely related disciplines. What does a climate scientist celebrate on this day?

Climate is made of weather: the building blocks of climate are weather events. At CMCC, we study the climate system and the impacts of climate change. Therefore, when we look at how the climate might change in the future, one of the main questions we ask ourselves is how the characteristics of extreme weather events will evolve. Among other things, these are indeed some of the impacts of climate change that have the most direct influence on our lives. There is therefore a very strong link between climate research and meteorology, and what we are celebrating today is also important for the world of climate change research.

Sub-seasonal, seasonal, multi-annual, decadal. Climate forecasts can cover different time scales. What kind of knowledge does CMCC produce in this field?

After a long experience in the field of climate forecasting, CMCC has made it one of its most important assets, becoming one of the few centers at the international level that produce climate forecasts on all time scales, ranging from a few weeks to a decade. We already offer seasonal forecasts, we are becoming operational for the decadal forecasts, which have a time horizon of ten years, and we are building a system to produce forecasts on sub-seasonal scales, with a time horizon of about one month. The ability to investigate the climate system on all these different time scales will allow us to better understand its dynamics and produce more reliable and useful forecasts.

Seasonal forecasts are a great resource for societies and economies, helping decision-makers in various sectors and at various levels to plan for the near future based on scientific data. How have seasonal forecasts developed and what are their practical applications today?

European collaborative research about seasonal forecasts, aimed at predicting the evolution of weather and climate conditions in the seasons to come, began to develop in the 1990s. As a group of scientists who are now part of CMCC, we have been involved in this research at European level since then, well before the establishment of the Centre. Originally, it was primarily aimed at understanding how it would be possible to predict climate evolution at these time scales. Then, progressively, research activities were joined by the development of services, in response to a growing demand from users for information on the evolution of meteo-climatic events with a time horizon of 3-6 months. The information provided by seasonal forecasts is of paramount importance for decision-makers in a wide variety of sectors, ranging from energy production and distribution to agriculture, water management and health. Our stakeholders also include the private sector, for instance with companies involved in renewable energy production or insurance companies, who are asking for help in better defining their climate-related risk levels and managing their activities.

At the international level, the growing importance of seasonal forecasts has culminated in the decision of Copernicus, the European Union’s Earth Observation Programme, to make the production of these forecasts one of the main services offered to the international community, targeting not only the world of research, but also potential users in a wide range of economic sectors.

How is the CMCC making its seasonal forecasts available in a European and international context?

We have been producing seasonal forecasts for several years now, offering each month forecasts for the next two seasons. We produce them operationally, on a regular basis, as a real service activity offered every month and regardless of the research activities we carry out, usually linked to specific research projects.

Today, we are one of the five European centres producing seasonal forecasts for the Copernicus Programme. Moreover, in view of this consolidated operational activity, we have proposed our candidature to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), a United Nations agency, to become one of the global producing centres recognised by the agency. Our candidature has already been approved by all the technical panels that examined it. With the ratification by the Executive Board, which will meet in June, CMCC will formally become the fourteenth centre in the world to produce operational seasonal forecasts recognised by the WMO.

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