February 2008

WMO activities


Public weather services, satellite meteorology, severe weather forecasting, climate change, Least Developed Countries, adaptating to climate change


Public weather services

An international symposium was held in Geneva from 3 to 5 December 2007 to review achievements in WMO’s public weather service (PWS) activities and to prepare a roadmap for the future. The aim was to improve delivery of services by National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) and other entities engaged in weather, climate and water issues.

Some notable achievements had been: publication of guidance material to help NMHSs establish and carry out key PWS functions; training workshops and seminars; and mobilization of resources to build capacity for the establishment of facilities such as weather studios, these being vital for packaging weather information, forecasts and warnings.

The number of NMHSs delivering weather services to the public through television, radio, the print media and the Internet had increased. The quality of these services in terms of ease with which the public could understand the products and in the timeliness of delivery had also improved. This had led to the visibility and status of NMHSs being raised in many countries, thus making it easier for them to receive increased institutional and fiscal support.

Much of this success was attributed to work enhancing the capacity of NMHSs to collaborate effectively with the media; establishment of the World Weather Information Service and the Severe Weather Information Centre Websites, which provide official weather information and warnings to the media; awareness raising and public education.

Major issues for the future include: water availability, the environment, climate change, human health and urbanization. Increased population size and vulnerability in many parts of the world place new demands on NMHSs in terms of quality and types of services required. On the other hand, advances in science and technology offer new challenges and opportunities to enhance the range, relevance and quality of products and services.

NMHSs now need to adopt a new service delivery paradigm in order to provide a suite of integrated services to a wider range of users. WMO will assist Members to address major strategies to optimize the social and economic benefits of weather, climate and water services required.

aerial view

See also Recent events in this issue for more information about the symposium.

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WMO strengthens satellite strategy to monitor climate change

At a top-level meeting in January 2008, space agencies contributing to global Earth observations on research and operational bases and National Meteorological Services gave their support to the updated strategy for the space-based component of the WMO Global Observing System (GOS) on the enhanced use of satellites to monitor weather and climate in the coming decades.

At least 16 geostationary and low-Earth-orbit satellites currently provide operational data on the planet’s climate and weather as part of the GOS. They are complemented by numerous experimental satellites designed for scientific missions or instrument technology demonstration. A record number of 17 satellites are planned for launch in 2008 to further strengthen the GOS.

Satellites have been used for decades to monitor climatic and weather conditions. But better integration of satellites and the constant refinement of their capabilities are crucial to keep check of the effects of climate change, such as atmospheric changes, sea-level rise and desertification. This can be achieved only through increased cooperation and data exchange among nations, which is at the heart of WMO’s activities.

Other noteworthy recent achievements have been:

  • Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research now operates a joint satellite programme with China to monitor the environment. Brazil provides data and products from its space observations over South America, Africa and China, which will be freely available to WMO Members;
  • Major progress has been made in the WMO-run International Geo-stationary Laboratory to use satellites for highly elliptical orbits. These allow almost permanent coverage of high-latitude areas for weather, ice and snow monitoring, as well as for telecommunications and data collection.
  • Guidelines have been developed for the transition of successful research and development satellites into more permanent, operational missions.
  • A Regional/Specialized Satellite Centre in Climate Monitoring is being planned. It will provide for the sustained provision of high-quality essential climate variable satellite products on a global scale.

The goal of the space-based component of the Global Observing System is to meet the observation needs of WMO’s mandated activities in weather, climate, water, the atmosphere and disaster prevention and mitigation. It is also a major component of the Global Earth Observation System of Systems and supports other environmental applications.


WMO Space Programme

Report of the WMO Consultative Meeting on High-level Policy on Satellite Matters in Recent events

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Severe weather forecasting

With their ever-increasing precision, reliability and lead-time, numerical weather prediction (NWP) systems have become a very relevant component of routine and severe weather forecasting processes at National Meteorological and Hydrological Services.

destroyed house  

An initiative to further explore and enhance the use of outputs of existing NWP systems, including ensemble systems, is the Severe Weather Forecasting Demonstration Project. Its aim is to contribute to capacity-building and to help developing countries in particular to implement the best possible use of existing NWP products for improving warnings of hazardous weather conditions.

Global-scale products, as well as data and information provided by various centres, are integrated and synthesized by a designated Regional Specialized Meteorological Centre (RSMC), which, in turn, provides daily guidance for short-range (days 1 and 2) and medium-range (out to day 5) on heavy rain and strong winds to participating National Meteorological Centres of the region. This is the “cascading” concept of the forecasting process.

Following a period of planning, the first realization of the Severe Weather Forecasting Demonstration Project was implemented at the beginning of the rainy season in south-eastern Africa in November 2006. RSMC Pretoria (South Africa) is the integrating regional centre for the global-scale products provided by the UK Met Office, the US National Centres for Environmental Prediction and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts. Other information is provided by RSMC La Réunion (France), which specializes in tropical cyclones in the Indian Ocean, the African Centre of Meteorological Application for Development and RSMC Pretoria’s own production system, such as a limited area NWP system and satellite data systems covering southern Africa. The participating National Meteorological Centres are those of Botswana, Madagascar, Mozambique, United Republic of Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

Two training workshops were conducted specifically targeting weather forecasters of the region who were to implement the project. The project terminated in November 2007. It will be fully evaluated in March 2008 and proposals made for expanding the project in southern Africa and to other regions.

Reports of the experiences of the participating countries have been extremely positive. The goals of improved weather forecasting and warnings are being realized, including, for example, longer lead-times for alerting civil protection agencies and the public and improved cooperation between NMHSs and their civil protection agencies.

Some deficiencies have also been identified, such as tools for forecasting the rapid onset of localized severe thunderstorms.


Severe Weather Forecasting Demonstration Project

A WMO initiative to enhance the use of existing numerical weather prediction (NWP) products is the Severe Weather Forecasting Demonstration Project (SWFDP). Its aim is to contribute to capacity-building and to help developing countries to access and make the best possible use of existing NWP products for improving warnings of hazardous weather conditions.

WMO recognized that many products already available from numerical prediction systems, including those from “ensemble prediction systems”, would bring additional skill, reliability, and increased lead-time into the forecasting of severe weather in some regions of the world, if such products are made more accessible and used at weather forecasting centres of developing countries.

Latest products, as well as data and information provided around the clock by various global, regional and national centres, are integrated and synthesized by a WMO designated Regional Specialized Meteorological Centre (RSMC), which, in turn, provides daily forecasting guidance up to five days in advance to participating National Meteorological Centres of the region.

The first realization of the Severe Weather Forecasting Demonstration Project was implemented at the beginning of the rainy season in south-eastern Africa in November 2006. RSMC Pretoria (South Africa) is the integrating regional centre. The participating National Meteorological Centres include those of Botswana, Madagascar, Mozambique, United Republic of Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

The ultimate goals of the project of improved weather forecasting and warning programmes are being significantly realized, including for example, longer lead-times for alerting civil protection agencies and the public and improved cooperation between NMHSs with civil protection agencies. Some deficiencies have also been identified, such as tools for forecasting the rapid onset of localized severe thunderstorms.

WMO Global Data-processing and Forecasting System

South African Weather Service


Advances in weather forecasting

The Global Data-processing and Forecasting System, one of the pillars of WMO’s World Weather Watch, includes world, regional and national meteorological centres, all contributing to the global system of weather forecasting. An important and continuing development for operational weather forecasting is the use of the Ensemble Prediction System (EPS), which is capable of providing information on uncertainties associated with numerical weather prediction results.

While many National Meteorological Services are carrying out EPS work, the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) and the Japan Meteorological Agency are also providing EPS-based products for WMO Members, via dedicated Websites. These products are primarily intended for use by meteorologists and weather forecasting specialists.

As an example, ECMWF is making “EPSgrams” for WMO Members, a form of location-specific graphic that includes forecast information on surface temperature, wind speed, precipitation and cloud cover out to 10 days. Requests for additional locations (up to 10 per country) can be arranged through the Secretariat by the NMHS of the country. Access to the ECMWF Website for WMO Members is password-protected. Requests for access should be made by the Permanent Representative of a country with WMO to the Director of ECMWF (see www.ecmwf.int).

Additionally, ECMWF has recently enhanced the set of its products disseminated to WMO Members, including the provision of global marine products from the EPS on 2.5° latitude/longitude grids of up to six days, in support of high-impact and extreme sea- state events. This includes, in particular, global forecasts of the probability of significant wave height (above 2, 4, 6 and 8 m) based on EPS. The probabilistic forecast of significant wave height exceeding these thresholds is particularly aimed at providing early warning guidance of extreme events and improving the marine-related decision-making process. The four thresholds reflect the varying requirements of end-users in different parts of the world.

The Japan Meteorological Agency has recently expanded its service of EPS guidance products to WMO Members, including EPSgrams for major cities in Asia, at its new Website (http://eps.kishou.go.jp/EPSMRFA/index.html). Feedback regarding these products is welcome and can be sent to eps-admin@naps.kishou.go.jp.

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Nobel Peace Prize

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Al Gore, former US Vice-President and environmental campaigner, received the Nobel Peace Prize at a ceremony in Oslo, Norway, on 10 December 2007 in the presence of the King and Queen of Norway. Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of WMO, was also present at the ceremony, as well as Mostafa Tolba, former Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). WMO and UNEP established the Panel in 1988.

The Chairman of the IPCC, Rajendra Pachauri, received the award on behalf of the Panel and paid tribute to the thousands of experts and scientists who have contributed to the work of the Panel in the service of humanity. He also expressed his gratitude to WMO and UNEP, the co-sponsors of IPCC, for their support.

The honour has reinforced the need to integrate science and its findings on climate change into the political decision-making process. It is vital that scientific evidence on climate change—and mankind’s role therein—is used as the basis for moving forward the political process on curbing climate change. Indeed, the integration of reliable information in socio-economic decision-making is a prerequisite for sustainable development.

WMO supports the IPCC process in many ways, particularly through creating the mechanisms and standards to monitor the Earth’s climate.

The Secretary of the IPCC, Renate Christ, holding the Nobel Prize Diploma, with (from right to left) Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of WMO; Mostafa Tolba, former Executive Director of UNEP; and Yuri Izrael, Vice-Chair of IPCC


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Assisting Least Developed Countries

Weather-, climate- and water-related events, including climate change, have a significant impact on many socio-economic sectors of all countries. These include food security, health, agriculture, fisheries, forestry, water- and energy-resources management, transport, tourism, environment protection and disaster risk reduction.

The Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are particularly susceptible to these impacts and to climate change and natural disasters. WMO stresses the need to mainstream weather-, climate- and water-related information, products and services in the socio-economic development planning and strategies of the LDCs.

WMO promotes, through workshops, the building of strategic partnerships at the local, national and regional levels and the sharing of experiences and success stories on the beneficial use of meteorological and hydrological information, products and services.

Considering that the average cost:benefit ratio of investing in NMHSs is of the order of 1 to 10, it is important that NMHSs are provided with adequate resources, including under national budgets and other domestic and external resources, to cover their investment and operational activities.

The National Meteorological and Hydrological Services of LDCs operate in an evolving environment and as such, it is of utmost importance for them to develop a vision, a mission and strategies in order to achieve their objectives. WMO will therefore prepare guidelines for strategic management adapted to the specific needs of the LDCs, including the establishment of relevant institutions and a legal and regulatory framework.

Together with its partner agency, the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO, WMO aims to facilitate and support the delivery of the most visible operational outputs of the world’s marine meteorological and oceanographic organizations, including warnings of gales, storms, severe tropical weather systems, such as typhoons, hurricanes and tropical cyclones, ocean-associated phenomena and other marine hazards. The continuing provision of safety-related weather and oceanographic products and services is a fundamental priority.

girls cooking

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Investing in climate

Decision-makers must not only invest in programmes that mitigate the effects of climate change, but also strengthen existing measures and take up new ones that will help populations and public and private businesses and services adapt to water scarcity and extreme weather and climate events. Much greater attention needs to be given therefore to adaptation strategies.

WMO promotes a better understanding of the impacts of, and vulnerability to, climate change and related extreme events, such as heat waves, floods, cyclones and drought. Its globally standardized framework to observe, monitor and predict weather, climate and water, makes the Organization uniquely able to provide information on the climate system and its changes on different scales.

The National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) of WMO Members conduct systematic observations and contribute to WMO’s monitoring of the current climate and for developing projection and analysis of future climate change. The NMHSs assess and minimize adverse impacts by providing climate information, early warnings and guidance to users in various socio-economic sectors and at different levels.

A priority is to provide early warnings of extreme climate and weather events, including floods, to allow for better preparedness and to reduce socio-economic vulnerability. To this end, WMO is developing operational frameworks for climate watch systems and regional climate centres.

Partnerships between the public and private sectors, particularly in developing countries, are needed to strengthen scientific services in order to assess the impacts of climate change on water resources availability. The results of this assessment should be incorporated into the national planning process.

WMO regularly issues updated statements on global and regional climate trends and helps enhance capacities in countries to gather, analyse and provide climate information. Other publications are being developed to enable NMHSs to implement and operate best practices and support adaptation activities, including a status report on drought preparedness and coping strategies for droughts, guidance on heat waves and health warning systems (in collaboration with the World Health Organization).

WMO encourages countries to strengthen the existing international framework to coordinate scientific efforts for monitoring, detecting and understanding the climate and predicting future changes, as well as providing specialized information and services to users in key social and economic sectors to support informed decision-making for adaptation.

WMO actively promotes this through raising awareness and through enhanced partnerships, across disciplines and institutions at national and international levels, as part of its long-term strategy. Countries are encouraged to share experiences on how they incorporate climate information and model predictions in their planning decisions and assessing methodologies for translating climate information into social and economic benefits.



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