The Key To Extended Forecasting Is The Ocean

2018-04-30T15:24:40+00:00 April 30, 2018|

What It Was

Senator Brian Schatz (HI) and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research hosted a congressional briefing titled, “The Oceans and Long-Range Weather Forecasting: Discovering Clues That Strengthen Subseasonal to Seasonal Predictions.”

Why It Matters

The weather forecast we rely on every day encompasses a tremendous amount of data and Earth science information. Reliability and accuracy of predictions are critically important to prepare for major storms and natural disasters but also daily weather events. The ability to predict is improved by research, Earth and ocean observations, and computing algorithms; however, ocean data are underutilized in current weather models. Longer term forecasting could result in better preparation for severe storms, fewer losses of life, and greater understanding of seasonal activity for numerous uses (e.g., fishing, farming, traveling, etc.).

Key Points

Earth system functions are based on the interactions between atmosphere, land, and water; the weather we experience is a result of those exchanges. Predictive models can incorporate a plethora of variables but using the right combination of data is important for accurate weather forecasting.

Experts from industry and academia described the nation’s current weather predicting models, praised their ability to estimate conditions up to one week, and explained the benefits to citizens and consumers. They emphasized the key to increasing the predictive-timeline with precision is incorporating ocean temperature (surface and subsurface) and ocean currents.

It is well documented that the ocean moves and flows in routine ways, including by daily tides, ocean currents, and upwellings. Scientists can calculate the lag time it takes offshore deep water to travel towards the surface and make landfall. Knowing this delay and the temperature beneath the surface of the ocean offshore can help calculate when those changes will be felt in weather on land. Incorporating these data into weather models could extend forecasting from two weeks to two years.

Experts agreed that high quality models with ocean coupling are essential and the way of the future. Dr. Alicia Karspeck (Staff Climate Scientist and Associate Director of Research Partnerships, Jupiter Technology Systems, Inc.) stressed that new models with more complex variables will struggle to be functional if designers don’t consider data storage and the magnitude of big data utilized.


“Subsurface ocean memory makes subseasonal to seasonal predictions possible.” – Dr. Ben Kirtman, Director, Cooperative Institute for Marine & Atmospheric Studies, University of Miami, Rosenstiel School for Marine and Atmospheric Science

“Data storage, distribution, and management cannot be an afterthought.” – Dr. Alicia Karspeck, Staff Climate Scientist and Associate Director of Research Partnerships, Jupiter Technology Systems, Inc.

“Predictions have real impacts on people’s livelihoods.” – Dr. Chad McNutt, Principal and Co-founder, Livestock Wx

Related coverage from the Consortium for Ocean Leadership