Seminar Abstract

Anne Steinemann

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Using climate forecasts for drought management

Drought hazards, and the ability to mitigate them with advance warning, offer potentially valuable applications of climate forecast products.  This presentation reports on two-phase study that determined forecast needs among water managers and then translated forecast information for direct use in drought management. 

The first phase, involving surveys and interviews with more than 25 water managers in Georgia, revealed a paradoxical but not uncommon result.  Despite the high potential value of the forecasts, they had low actual use.  For example, state water managers valued long-lead precipitation forecasts as high as $500 million per drought year, yet less than 10% of these managers actually used these forecasts, citing difficulties in understanding and applying the forecast products. To address these needs, the second phase involved a process of translating forecasts for water management and working with water managers to integrate forecasts into decision-making.  Seasonal precipitation outlooks produced by the Climate Prediction Center were converted into a Forecast Precipitation Index (FPI), which expresses forecasts as a departure from the climatological normal and in a format consistent with other drought indicators. 

Forecast evaluations indicated positive skill for critical seasons during the recent Southeastern drought.  In addition, using evaluation criteria of water managers, 78% of forecasts would have offered improvement over existing information, and 88% of forecasts for critical drought seasons would have correctly prompted drought responses. This study builds upon prior work by not only investigating barriers to climate forecast use, but also by developing an approach to make climate forecasts more useful and used.

Speaker Bio:

Anne C. Steinemann is Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Washington, with a Joint Appointment in the Evans School of Public Affairs.  Prior to coming to UW, she was a visiting scientist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and was on the faculty for nine years at the Georgia Institute of Technology.  Her research interests broadly include drought management, environmental planning, and the integration of forecast information into decision-making.  Her full bio can be found here.