2nd leg of the pilot exchange between Save the Children UK, Christian Aid, UCL Environment Centre and Benfield Hazard Research Centre and the Met Office

May 28, 2009

Pilot Humanitarian-Science Exchange, Second leg

Meeting at Met Office Hadley Centre

Second leg of the pilot exchange between the Met Office, UCL’s Environment Centre and Benfield Hazard Research Centre, Save the Children UK and Christian Aid

19 May 2009


Met Office: Adrian Thomas, Anca Brookshaw, Bernd Eggen, Rachel McCarthy, Joseph Intisiful, Karen McCourt, Kirstine Dale

Richard Ewbank, Christian Aid

Lydia Baker, Save the Children UK

Emma Visman, Humanitarian Futures Programme

Martin Todd, UCL and David Wightwick, SC UK were unable to attend.


All participants provided a brief introduction of their current focus for work/research and experience related to the exchange.

Introduction to the Met Office, Adrian Thomas

Presentation on the various areas of Met Office work including: its role as one of the world’s two forecast centres for aviation, the new flood warning centre, forecasting ‘fallout’ from radioactive and chemical leakage and ash from volcanic eruptions, forecasting the spread of vector-bourne diseases through the Institute of Animal Health, such as blue tongue, or weather-related human health illness, such as SADS. The Met Office also contributes to a consortium of malaria models. The Met Office is part of the MOD.

For weather forecasting, regional forecasting is at a scale of 12km, and for the UK, capacity has been enhanced from 4km in 2007 to 1.5km currently. Weather forecasting is as accurate now for 3 day period in advance as it was for 1 day twenty years ago.

An introduction to seasonal forecasting, Anca Brookshaw

Due to the imperfections inherent in observed weather, the Met Office now uses ensembles even for 3 day forecasts.

The Met Office produce 3 seasonal forecasts:

  • Monthly 32-day range forecasts, employing 51 member ensembles. Not much monthly information is freely available.
  • Seasonal forecasts using 41 member ensembles. Seasonal information is freely available, without interpretation.
  • Tropical storm. This is available for the North Atlantic. While it could be made available for other regions, the current insufficiency of data to enable calibration constraints its development for other regions.
  • Decadal forecasts for a 10-30 year period, using 10-member ensembles.

El Nino/La Nina occurs ever 3-8 years and exhibit predictable patterns without being certain. Some teleconnections or local connections are more certain than others,

Event counts: expected conditions averaged over a time count. For up to a month ahead, events are averaged on a weekly basis, for 1-6 months ahead, events are averaged on a 3 monthly period, and for more than one year ahead, multi-year averages are used.

Extreme events are on the 20th and 80th percentiles.

The Met Office works through the WMO and supports their policy of building the capacity of national meteorological offices.

The WMO supports Regional Climate Outlook Forums (RCOFs), which have been taking place for the last 10 years. They last one week and bring together users from across each region to consider seasonal forecasts and bring to the forecasts observation, knowledge of localised vulnerabilities and phenomena, such as locust swarming.

SC UK wondered whether it might be useful to establish links between the RCOFs and the newly established International Phase Classification (IPC) initiative, which seek to pool inter-agency work on food security and other vulnerabilities.

There was some discussion on users of climate information and channels for communication of climate information, reaching beyond in-country experts. In North Africa, climate information has been disseminated through mosques, raising the need for identification of credible and relevant disseminators and translators of climate information.

Examples of using climate information included:

  • To plan for capacity of hydroelectricity produced by the Lake Volta Authority. It has a large catchment area, so does not rely on high resolution information.
  • Malaria infection rates in Botswana. Botswana was selected as it has the best malaria records.

In future activities, the Met Office will be focussing on, amongst other areas, the links of seasonal forecasting with health, crops and hydrology and present day climate stresses.

Climate Impacts Group, Rachel McCarthy

Research within the Climate Impacts Group is bringing together information on land, river routing and crops, enabling models to show greater detail of climate impacts. It also enables closer consideration of the many horizontal layers of information incorporated within each individual climate gridbox.

The group is developing the Joint UK Land Environment Simulator (JULES) as a community model with other institutes. Gridboxes are divided into the components of water, vegetation cover and soils. The dynamic vegetation model enables greater detail, including the impact of photosynthesis.  The group is currently looking at 200 river basins, with river basis one of the first areas to be impacted by climate change. With increased temperatures, plants are likely to bud earlier, leading to increased run off.

The Group undertakes a lot of research on the water sector with DFID, through Water and global change (WATCH).

Also identified was the importance of using climate models to question assumptions. Cited was the example of irrigation in India which, counter to intuition, reduced productivity during certain seasons.

Joseph Intsiful, PRECIS

Through PRECIS (Providing Regional Climates for Impacts Studies), the programme has developed a PC version of the super computer model. The programme provides training, workshops and materials. It enables the construction of regional climate change scenarios, incorporating local knowledge and phenomena, such as dust storms and monsoons. The Met Office’s Voluntary Contribution Project (VCP – see below) supported the participation of crisis-affected countries, enabling vital information to be brought to the discussion.

PRECIS works with regional climate expertise including: ICPAC in East Africa, U Cape Town in South Africa, IITM in India, CPTEC in South America, and CCCCC/INSMETT in Central America.

The regional models can inform planning: forecasts on rain can, for example, provide guidance on the need to seek GM crops ( We did not have time to discuss whether forecasts could instead steer investigation for using existing appropriate drought resistant crops, as opposed to GM varieties).

Cuba was identified as being particularly proactive in developing the use of the PRECIS tool, developing a PRECIS online access system.

It is hoped that the UKCIP (UK Climate Impact Project) model can be used in other regions to develop, for example, an AFRICACIP.

PRECIS has sought to develop links with the community to incorporate indigenous climate knowledge. In Africa, for example, it has sought to engage the climate knowledge of witch doctors. Also mentioned was pilot cross-sectoral work on river blindness, using PRECIS with social scientists and epidemiological expertise to look at drug resistance .

PRECIS has also sought to support the focal points and advisors for country engagement with global climate change discussions. The FCO has also supported dialogue on climate change in some countries.

Karen McCourt, Voluntary Contribution Project (VCP)

The VCP provides a combination of training, equipment and services for building capacity in LDCs. Around 15 countries contribute financial or personnel support through the WMO.  There is now an increased focus on resource mobilisation.

Examples of work to date include:

  • Support on severe weather forecasting through regional offices for national meteorological offices.
  • Supporting the interfacing of climate data in developing countries with Met Office systems through CLIMSOFT.
  • Sponsored training on statistics through Reading University
  • Working with ComputerAid in Uganda to support local meteorological offices and building their relationships with District Planning Offices.
  • Sponsoring e-management courses

Also mentioned was the WMO’s World Climate Conference, which takes place in August 2009, and which considers climate services.

Information and resources

Would it be possible to request:

  • Copies of the powerpoint presentations provided by Met Office colleagues? Anca’s slide on the tipping of probability is extremely helpful to guiding understanding on how to ‘use’ climate information.
  • Available documentation of the pilots supported through the VCP?
  • Documentation on the cross-disciplinary work supported through PRECIS

Availability of the climate change atlas produced for DFID and climate impacts work undertaken  for the FCO

For consideration and follow up

How could the humanitarian and development community participate in Regional Climate Outlook Forums?

Disaster Watch on IRIN: what information is on there? How good is it?

Understand more on link with FEWSNET, and the climate information which they employ.

Consider the tropical cyclone/storm information provided through Benfield, its sources and differences to Met Office approach.

Look at the PRECIS online access system developed by Cuba.

The recent Copehagen meeting included a presentation on the state of the climate in 2030.

Learning for the dialogue

Several Met Office colleagues had experience of working with the humanitarian and development community. Bernd Eggen had worked on educational outreach for 5 years prior to joining the Met Office, Adrian Thomas has previously worked for UK NGOs< Kirstine Dale supports the climate information requirements of government ministries, including DFID.

Explore the use of monthly forecasts for the humanitarian community. How could this information be made available to this community? How could they use it?

Can we describe ‘expert’ judgement? The elements required to enable good interpretation of models. Are there elements which would assist non-experts to discern ‘good’ climate information and most appropriate use of climate information?

Can we learn more about weather extremes, particularly relevant to the humanitarian community?

Working with the WMO and national meteorological offices. How can humanitarian and development organisations best support and work with national meteorological offices? The opportunities and constraints of accessing information through national meteorological offices, whether due to insufficient resources or capacity for outreach.

Need to clarify who are the ‘users’ of climate information: for the Met Office, current users may primarily be national meteorological offices. For the humanitarian and development community, users are primarily communities and/or national or regional partners.

Save the Children has identified 20 priority countries for their DDR work. There was discussion about how climate information had informed or could inform country selection.

The IPCC is a review of research existing by a specified deadline. The review is informed and limited by existing research focus and priorities.

There is a need for informed understanding of the methodologies employed within climate reports and information.  Could the Met Office provide an analysis of the methodologies employed within some key reports used or produced by the humanitarian community to support appropriate use of relevant bodies of climate information?

Richard Ewbank raised concerns from partners over the impact of wind – the intensity and duration is reported to have increased and was raised as the primary weather concern amongst partners in Central America and parts of East Africa. Unfortunately both wind and visibility are extremely difficult to model.

The huge resources entailed in developing climate information made clear that there are significant resources required to produce information tailored for the development and humanitarian communities.

Consideration of why Cuba so advanced in both adoption of PRECIS model and DDR approach.