Developing Colombia’s Next Generation of Seasonal Forecasts

Last year, climate scientists from the International Research Institute for Climate and Society visited Colombia’s national meteorological service (called the Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies and known by its Spanish acronym, IDEAM) to discuss their continuing partnership and to start developing a more advanced seasonal forecasting system called ‘the Next Generation of Seasonal Climate Forecasts,’ or NextGen. NextGen is a new set of high-quality, flexible and tailored predictions made by Colombians for Colombians, assisted and funded by the IRI-led Adapting Agriculture to Climate Today, for Tomorrow (ACToday) project, part of Columbia World Projects.

José Franklyn Ruiz Murcia, the former SubDirector of Meteorology and current Head of the Weather and Climate Numerical Modeling Group at IDEAM, describes the new partnership between IDEAM (the Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology, and Environment Studies) and IRI (the International Research Institute for Climate and Society).

This partnership will provide a state-of-the-art approach to produce seasonal forecasts. These predictions, extending over the succeeding few months, will include key variables like accumulated rainfall, frequency of rainy days, and minimum, maximum and mean temperature. The system uses global climate models provided by NOAA’s North American Multi-Model Ensemble project and selects the best models based on Colombia’s particular climate.

Simon Mason describes the IDEAM’s current capabilities, and talks about next steps for improving weather and climate forecasting in Colombia under the ACToday project, which the World Meteorological Organization hopes will be a model for other countries in the region.

The NextGen forecasts will be presented to the user in a flexible format so that particular variables of interest may be selected. Ángel Muñoz, Associate Research Scientist and ACToday Country Lead of Colombia and Guatemala, explains, “For example, imagine you are a farmer and you know that if it’s expected to rain at least 120 mm during the next season, you can plant your usual crop; but if the prediction for reaching or surpassing that value isn’t too confident (if there is a low probability of exceeding 120 mm in the next season), then you can choose a safer approach, and plant a different one. The most common prediction systems tend to offer only probabilities of, say, rainfall amounts for above-normal, normal or below normal conditions —but what exactly does that mean for different crops? The NextGen’s flexible format is trying to answer that question. And it’s expected to help not only the agriculture and food security sector, but also the energy, disaster, health and water management sectors.”

NextGen is expected to be fully implemented at IDEAM in early 2019, but Colombia’s National Met Service will be testing the system internally in experimental mode for a year before it goes public to ensure the system’s performance in different seasons. Nonetheless, it is expected to start helping key governmental institutions and partners make climate-smart decisions as soon as it is operational.

A similar system of seasonal forecasts will also be premiered in Guatemala this year using data and a configuration specific to Guatemala. More details about this program will be released later this year.