SR SSD 99-16
Southern Region Climate Briefings - and Results
Scientific Services Division
Over the last few years there has been a revolution in the study and prediction of climate. Enhanced understanding, more and better observations and models, and faster computers to run the models have allowed NCEP's Climate Prediction Center to become a leader in this area. At the same time, the development of the Internet and proliferation of Web sites has provided the means to distribute more information, faster, and in exciting new ways. The NWS field offices have also played an important role by taking output from the CPC and other researchers, adapting or modifying it for their local areas, and communicating to the public and other users critically important information about the atmosphere on time and space scales never before imagined - at least with the accuracy today's science and technology allow.
Representative Web sites include the CPC's weekly experimental Threat Assessment (http://www.nic.fb4.noaa.gov/products/predictions/threats/) and La Niña (http://www.nic.fb4.noaa.gov/products/analysis_monitoring/lanina/) pages, NOAA's La Niña page (http://www.elnino.noaa.gov/lanina.html), and the El Niño, La Niña and Drought links on the NWS Southern Region's Weather Links page (http://www.srh.noaa.gov/ssd/html/wxlinks.htm).
Recently, we surveyed Southern Region offices to evaluate their involvement in climate activities. Not surprisingly, the most recent El Niño/La Niña events have increased the number and variety - and impact - of their contacts considerably. Below is a partial summary which reflects the role all our WFOs are playing in this area.
Provided climate and drought outlook summary to Vice President Gore on his visit to Daytona last summer (June 29). Briefings tools included CPC-derived data and locally produced summaries.
Potential local El Niño impacts on severe weather were incorporated into preparedness activities prior to disastrous Central Florida tornado outbreak in February 1998. Result was heightened awareness for an event of the magnitude which occurred - that was directly linked to success of NWSO warnings.
NWSO El Paso:
Beginning in fall of 1997, provided numerous briefings to emergency managers and civic groups, the main emphasis of which was to calm unwarranted fears stemming from MISCONCEPTIONS of climate impacts from El Niño/La Niña.
Climate information was utilized last spring/summer to brief USDA Forest Service, National Park Service, and Texas Forest Service on extreme dry conditions and fire threat across West Texas. This resulted in forward-deployed resources being available in West Texas when a 50,000 acre wildfire occurred west of Marfa. Climate information was also utilized by the Midland County Commissioners and the County Fire Marshall in assessing the need for a county fireworks ban prior to the Fourth of July holiday.
NWSO Lake Charles:
EL Niño and climate briefings used to inform Civil Defense, emergency managers, media, state Department of Environmental Air Quality (DEQ), farmers and construction interests on the Mar - Jun, 1998 drought which was predicted a month in advance. Millions of dollars of crop damage occurred in LA/TX. Briefing results:
- Government users took that information to enact water restrictions in hard hit area.
- Farmers changed irrigation schedules, saving some crops and limiting damage.
- DEQ ramped up their environmental air program and spurred health bulletins in TX/LA, since it coincided with Mexican fires and smoke plumes in Southern U.S.
- Interactions with media improved understanding of the impact of the drought from a climate perspective.
Last year, El Niño/La Niña local impact briefings were provided to Universal Weather Inc's annual hurricane workshop (600 attendees) and NWS hurricane workshop (750 attendees). Result was key decision makers on the upper Texas coast understood what EL/LN does AND DOESN'T DO with respect to hurricanes. This helped mitigate hype and speculation.
NWSFO Memphis (collocated in Agricenter):
Briefed Memphis Agricultural Club (agribusiness interests: farmers, implement dealers, commodity brokers, real estate dealers, chemical and seed companies, etc.) on potential El Niño/La Niña impact - local and wordwide. All, even bigger companies that had already been briefed by in-house meteorologists, were able to use the information to enhance ability to a) provide food/fiber for the nation, b) create strategies to cope with unsettled markets, and c) plan crop selection.
Since the record wildfire season in the spring of 1996, the NWSFO has used CPC products and their own assessments out to ten days to brief state agencies (primarily emergency management and water resources) on wildfire and drought situations.
Presented results of study on local El Niño effects to Ft. Smith media, which was subsequently incorporated into the widely-disseminated, annual "Weather Almanac" publication put out by the NBC affiliate in Ft. Smith. Also used the CPC seasonal forecasts for the past winter at Tulsa mayor's press conference, called to focus the community's readiness for an icy winter.
NWSFO Little Rock:
In August 1998 briefed 400 at the "Grand Prairie Water Symposium," including state and federal agencies, representatives and senators. This meeting involved the consideration of millions of dollars being obligated to conduct water for irrigation by pipeline from the Arkansas River to help alleviate usage on the alluvial aquifer which was in an extreme state of drawdown at the time. Outlook from the CPC was right on the money, calling for an extended drought for the area, followed by above normal rainfall this spring.
During summer 1998, briefed media, emergency managers, county judges, local fire departments, National Park Service, Texas Forest Service and others on climate/El Niño impacts. The county judges used information to establish or continue burn bans. Local, state and national agencies used the information for emergency planning.
At the "Southwest Crops Production Conference and Expo" in Lubbock, March 1999, briefed 400 on past El Niño/La Niña outlooks and verifications, plus outlook for 1999. Conference organizers stated the NWS outlook for 1999 would be a major consideration in agriculture planning and planting decisions in Texas. The presentation was quoted in the April 1 issue of the Southwest Farm Press, a multistate publication.
MIC serves on Governor's Drought Task Force. Climate data used extensively to support development of the New Mexico drought contingency plan, as well as to support the drought monitoring committee.
325 media interviews given in fall 1997, almost all on El Niño, using CPC outlooks and results of local studies.
NWSFO San Juan:
In 1994, a "dry" climate outlook was used to start the process of dredging the Carraizo Dam which serves the San Juan Metro Area. The dam was about 40% of its capacity. The forecast verified and millions of cubic feet of dirt were extracted, greatly improving the dam capacity.
Climate information is used along with long range prediction of hurricane activity to maintain awareness and for preparedness activities. Last year success with Hurricane Georges in both Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands stems from preparedness activities and media conferences urging appropriate preparedness plans.