Contributed by Bapon Fakhruddin
Seasonal forecasting techniques today are far more advanced than they were 40 years ago, enabling ensembles of seasonal forecast simulations with state-of-the-art climate models that produce a probability distribution of possible outcomes at various lead times for slightly different initial conditions.
This is thanks to the development of complex coupled ocean–atmosphere–land numerical models, modern statistical forecasting tools, sophisticated data assimilation systems and global observing systems that provide real-time data for forecast initialization. The forecast ensembles nowadays are able to detect the predictable signal from ocean initial conditions as well as the unpredictable, chaotic elements of the climate system.
The advances in seasonal forecasting over the past 40 years have improved the prediction of ENSO events. However, the incorporation of these forecasts into the decision making to take appropriate response by the society still poses a challenge.
El Niño Ready Nations (ENRN), as a concept, was inspired by 2 things: NOAA’s existing Weather Ready Nation program and the emergence of a forecast of an El Niño event of extraordinary magnitude in the tropical Pacific, a magnitude rivalling that of the 1997-98 “El Niño of the Century.” (NB: the 1982-83 El Niño was the first on to be called “The El Niño of the Century.”)
The forecast of a major El Niño was supported by researchers and was amplified through the media worldwide. The ENRN idea was included in the USAID Portal Project: a focused initiative to enhance national Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), in parts, as part of a Portal Project for Lessons Learned about DRR in a Changing Climate, lead by Prof. Mickey Glanz.
The workshop held during the Networkshop in Bangkok, March 22-24, 2016, with support from USAID, was designed as an internal project mid-course correction activity. It brought together the country case-study leaders to report on their progress and to agree to a common core framework for inputs to their country reports.
The networking aspect of the Networkshop was also an explicitly desired output. The meeting brought together young and established professionals, from different disciplines and organizations, from national meteorological services, and from different countries, each with a demonstrated interested in hydro-meteorological DRR. This ability to bring people from diverse background together to discuss common problems was a key, unanticipated outcome of the Antalya Conference in mid-February 2015 and has been referred to as the “spirit of Antalya”.
ENRN’s activity is a contribution to the proposed Portal Project on “Lessons learned about DRR in a changing climate.” The portal project is a direct outcome of the Antalya (Turkey) DRR Conference of mid-February 2015. It was given the highest priority of the Antalya Conference’s “Six Calls to Action,” prepared for the UNISDR’s World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) in Sendai, Japan.
This mix of experience, expertise and interests led to interesting discussions, not often heard in other meetings. For example, participants discussed the different meanings attributed to important words or DRR concepts in English. Participants from different cultures identified how, for example, “readiness” might be interpreted in their countries under the perspective of El Niño events.
The recent tropical cyclone (TC) Winston in Fiji was an example of a serious El Niño event. TC Winston reminded us how vulnerable the South Pacific is. Scientific information alone cannot make Fiji and other Pacific Island nations resilient. However, integrated multi-hazard risk management systems and strategies can be adopted to achieve sustainability and reduce vulnerability to natural disaster.
It is easier to write history knowing what has happened than it is to chart the future in a highly dynamic system. Global warming is altering the mean climate of Earth with potential impacts on the ENSO cycle that we are only beginning to fathom. More surprises may await us when learning more about ENSO in the future.