One Size Fits None: Drought forecasting in the Caribbean

This post contains excerpts from the full version on our Medium account

Most extreme climate and weather events involve an unwanted surplus — too much rain, too much wind or too much snow and ice. Drought is a little different: it’s the absence of something. It takes time for a drought to build, making it fundamentally different to monitor or forecast than many climate and weather events. In the Caribbean, much of the interaction between forecasters and decision makers has revolved around the wet season events— especially hurricanes and floods. These short, high impact events deserve this attention, but scientists and decision makers have also started working together to develop useful information about other kinds of climate impacts, namely drought.

In an effort to improve drought forecasts and their use by stakeholders, the first dry season Caribbean Climate Outlook Forum (CariCOF) took place in St. John’s, Antigua in December 2014. CariCOF is one of many regional COFs around the world that bring together climatologists, meteorologists, and the people who might use the information they produce (e.g. representatives from health, agriculture, water management, etc.).

Before this past December, the Caribbean only hosted such a meeting just before the wet season. But if rainfall during the wet season isn’t sufficient, drought can manifest and become further exacerbated during the dry season.

The drought forecast received the most interest and sparked the most discussion. The drought forecast was debuted to stakeholders at the CariCOF last May in Kingston. Marck Oduber from Aruba’s Meteorological Service explains his successes in learning and using the drought tool:

But for those not trained in atmospheric science, interpreting the drought information can be a bit trickier. The complexity of drought stems not just from technical monitoring and forecasting challenges, but also from its differing relationships among the economic sectors it influences…

CariCOF concluded with a few exercises led by scientists from the International Research Applications Program, or IRAP, which is a joint partnership between IRI and the University of Arizona funded by the US Agency for International Development and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

IRAP’s role in CariCOF is to identify why climate information being produced isn’t being used — or is being underused — and to help with the development and dissemination of climate information products that are more widely used. Much of the discussion during this COF centered on communication of the climate information. Zack Guido from Arizona and Simon Mason from IRI explain more:

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