A Pathway to Climate Services for SIDS

Caribbean, Pacific and Indian Ocean Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are extremely vulnerable to hydro-meteorological hazards. In the coming years, climate change is likely to increase the frequency and severity of such hazards in these islands while simultaneously increasing vulnerability by damaging ecosystems and wiping out livelihoods. Thus, in a bid to increase resilience to extreme weather events and the adverse impacts of climate change, the World Meteorological Congress in June approved the establishment of a new programme to support and enhance weather and climate services in SIDS and Member Island Territories.

Fragile islands under threat

Situated mostly in the tropics, SIDS are struck by cyclones, thunderstorms, lightning, coastal storm surges, river, coastal and flash flooding, drought, strong winds, heat waves, and dust or haze on a regular basis. These hydro-meteorological hazards can severely impact vulnerable and exposed SIDS by taking lives, destroying infrastructure and livelihoods, and causing coastal erosion, landslides, mudslides, epidemics, and the movement and spread of toxic substances and, occassionally, volcanic material. Such events have hampered the socio-economic development of already fragile SIDS economies, which often have limited possibilities – in many cases on tourism development – and are sensitive to external price shocks. They are largely reliant on local markets, subsistence farming, fisheries and natural resources to maintain livelihoods.

Climate science predicts that the frequency and severity of climate and weather-related disasters will be heightened in the coming decades due to human-induced climate change. Depending on the mitigation scenario followed, the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects that temperatures in the tropics could increase by 1.4° to 4.4°C, relative to 1986-2005, by the end of this century. Sea levels in the Caribbean and Pacific could rise by 0.5 to 0.9 metres, threatening low-lying island regions, and ocean acidity could increase by 0.07 to 0.32 pH units, threatening fisheries and livelihoods. The impact on many SIDS could be devastating.

Strength in partnerships

The weather services of SIDS possess talented and skilled people. The islands can also count on each other for assistance. For example, Tonga lacked the necessary observations to track the approach of Cyclone Evan in 2014, but its meteorological service could call on the service centres of other islands to obtain wind speed estimates and related data. Caribbean, Indian and Pacific SIDS have all created partnerships to develop a critical mass of operational capacity. These include:

But given the small size of the island states and the challenges ahead, further progress in coping with weather and climate-related extremes will also depend on making greater investments in observing networks, communication systems and service delivery. The equipment and human resources needed for the delivery of quality weather services are expensive. Governments must understand the high payoff of investments in weather and climate services in terms of lives saved, property protected and economic gains achieved. A better understanding of the contribution of weather services to sustainable development more broadly will also help to influence investment decisions. SIDS governments will have to engage with donor partners to ensure that investments in weather services are sustainable. The meteorological services of SIDS also need to gain greater access to information from the leading global weather centres.

These are all areas in which WMO plays an important role in supporting small islands. The new WMO SIDS and Member Island Territories programme will consolidate those activities.

Severe Weather Forecasting Demonstration project expands to CaribbeanMost Small Island Developing States are located between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. They are vulnerable to severe tropical weather events, such as cyclones and hurricanes, and to storm surges and coastal inundations 

WMO activities in SIDS

WMO invests in activities to maintain and restore existing weather and climate observing stations, to train local staff in the maintenance, calibrate and repair equipment, and to build the capacity of national meteorological services to archive, analyse and report on current weather and climate data. SIDS have benefitted from a number of WMO projects: the rebuilding of an entire meteorological service in Haiti, the strengthening of the CIMH, a regional entity located in Barbados, and community level work on early warnings of the Finnish-Pacific Project (FINPAC).

The WMO Tropical Cyclone Programme (TCP) has a strong focus on SIDS in the Indian and Pacific Oceans as well as in the Caribbean Sea. It coordinates the national and regional systems that it helped to establish (page 40) in order to minimize the loss of lives and damage to property by tropical cyclones.

The TCP is supported by the Severe Weather Forecasting Demonstration Project (SWFDP), which strengthens the capacity of national meteorological services in developing and least developed countries, including SIDS, to deliver improved forecasts and warnings of severe weather to save lives, livelihoods and property. Participating countries are able to benefit from advances in the science of weather forecasting, especially the dramatic developments in numerical weather prediction (NWP) systems, including ensemble prediction systems (EPS) that give guidance to weather forecasters in advance of potential hazardous weather conditions. The SWFDP has improved the lead time for and reliability of early warnings for high-impact events such as heavy precipitation, severe winds and high waves. It has enhanced the interaction between meteorological services and disaster management and civil protection agencies, local communities and media. SWFDP is making a major contribution to disaster risk reduction and is benefiting socio-economic sectors such as agriculture, fisheries, aviation and shipping.

Regional cooperation and networking

WMO Regional Climate Centres (RCCs) and related Regional Climate Outlook Forums (RCOFs) are also benefitting SIDS. Since 1997, RCOFs have formulated and disseminated regional seasonal climate forecasts to users of climate information and policymakers. Over the years, they have brought climatologists together with users from various socio-economic sectors such as agriculture, energy, water resource management, health, disaster risk management, tourism, wildlife, marine resources and many more. Virtual RCOFs are also organized to facilitate the production of seasonal forecasts. These forums have made an enormous contribution to improving the quality of seasonal rainfall outlooks and the dissemination of climate information and prediction products for early warnings and for other applications in various sectors. The RCOFs prove beyond a doubt that pre-disaster mitigation strategies through the optimal use of climate information and products can contribute enormously to sustainable development in different regions.

As RCCs develop, the organization of RCOFs will become one of their operational activities, carried out in association with participating national meteorological and hydrological services. In the Caribbean, CIMH has already been able to institutionalize RCOFs as one of its major operational activities, providing monthly outlooks on the Internet and organizing one or two meetings of national meteorological and hydrological services in the region per year. These RCOFs also serve as learning events as they are often preceded by, or become, training sessions on particular climate relevant topics.

A dedicated SIDS Programme

The new WMO SIDS programme promises to build on partnerships with other organizations that support SIDS. It will further coordinate the work of the TCP and SWFDP and promote the regional coordination and networking carried out by RCCs in order to attract more funding for RCOFs and to ensure greater access to climate services for users. SIDS are under threat due to human activities, and any delays in mitigating the impacts of climate change will come at a heavy cost in lives, property and livelihoods. 

Advances to Tropical Cyclones Forecasting

Advances in tropical cyclone track forecasting around the globe have been achieved by Regional Specialized Meteorological Centres (RSMCs) and Tropical Cyclone Warning Centres (TCWCs). Five-day track forecasts are now being issued that typically have about the same accuracy as that of the three-day forecasts made just a decade earlier. This essentially provides a two-day longer period for disaster preparedness activities. The US National Hurricane Center is preparing to issue seven-day forecasts in the near future, which is possible owing to improved track forecast guidance from multiple deterministic models. In addition, extended-range ensemble prediction systems (EPSs)(for example, European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) 15-day ensemble predictions centres and the National Centers for Environmental Prediction 16-day global ensemble forecast system) are providing forecasts of the formation and the subsequent track of the hazard so that forecasters can obtain some idea of the possible event, even prior to its formation, and also build confidence in the performance of the model(s) in predicting that event.

Improved track forecasts in the western North Pacific may be expected if arrangements can be made to extend aircraft reconnaissances to a greater number of tropical cyclones than are presently being observed by the Taiwan, Province of China, DOTSTAR aircraft. Atmospheric motion vectors (AMVs) from the new-generation Himawari-8/9 satellites based on observations every 10 minutes are expected to improve track forecasts in the western North Pacific where only 30-minute observations are currently available, and even more so in the western South Pacific where only hourly observations are currently available. Similarly, AMVs from the future GOES-R satellites are expected to improve track forecasts in the Atlantic and eastern North and South Pacific regions.

While tropical cyclone track forecast uncertainty guidance is now being provided in various basins, the use of past five-year average track forecast errors to specify track uncertainty has its limitations. Situation-dependent track uncertainty methods based on the spread of the consensus track forecast or on the calibrated ensemble model track forecasts will result in more accurate uncertainty guidance for forecasters. However, further studies are proposed to develop the most effective methods for communicating the risk to the public, who may not understand the threat of the tropical cyclone from the track cone of uncertainty.

Research and development of guidance products on all aspects of tropical cyclones, especially leading up to and after landfall of the cyclone, including a specification of forecast uncertainty, is of vital importance for accurate predictions of the associated hazards. The operational community should collaborate with social scientists in order to develop tools and to provide education and training for meaningful communication of risks to end users based on warnings and the forecast uncertainty associated with these warnings.

Contributed by Russell L. Elsberry, Munehiko Yamaguchi, Grant Elliott and Hsiao-Chung Tsai 

Case Study: Improving Agricultural Productivity in Tonga

The APEC Climate Center (APCC) is currently developing a forecasting system that takes the unique geographical characteristics of the Pacific Islands into consideration. This system will serve the main APCC portfolio in the Pacific Islands: climate change adaptation in agriculture, water management and health, among others. A joint GFCS/APCC project in Tonga offers an example of how agricultural productivity can benefit from climate data and enhanced agro-meteorological services. 

The project, launched in 2014, has four components: assessment of user needs and capacities, development of an agricultural database, research on the core relationships between agriculture and climate through modelling and field trials, and the development and delivery of agro-meteorological services. The envisioned outputs include 2–7 day warnings for pests and diseases, a suite of tools supporting farming in decisions on planting dates and crop varieties, and other advisory services derived from seasonal climate forecasts.

It aims to deliver climate information services for Tongan agricultural growers and exporters at a time of great urgency. The 2014 drought destroyed 80% of the squash harvest, a main export crop from which the country derives foreign exchange earnings. The project team hopes that growers and exporters will manage future climate risks better with the right tools and services in place.

The project has already achieved its first milestones:

  • an automatic weather station (AWS) was installed in the MAFFF Research Station, thus the first agro-meteorological data collection has taken place in Tonga;

  • an agricultural database management system that houses and archives project data has been developed;

  • coordination meetings are taking place to ensure alignment of the project objectives between the Tongan government and other stakeholders; and

  • rigorous scientific research, through modelling and field trials, have addressed the goals of helping to support the economy and food security in Tonga.

Other high-value export crops as well as subsistence crops for local consumption have been identified as primary target crops for the climate smart agriculture through state-of-the-art agro-climate services. Based on the findings from this project and other research, tools will be developed to translate the science into knowledge that supports decision-making by farmers and exporters as well as broader policy decisions by the Tongan government.

On 22 July, APCC signed a Memorandum of Under- standing with the government of Tonga to strengthen cooperation and facilitate on-site application of research outcomes. This will permit APCC to share its knowledge and experiences, techniques, goods and services with the government of Tonga to help cope with climate change. The government of Tonga will cooperate in turn with APCC by sharing climate change related information and supporting APCC to use outcomes from the Tonga work-site.

Contributed by Kwang-Hyung Kim, The APEC Climate Center

 The 2014 drought destroyed 80% of squash harvests in Tonga (Photo: Gary J. Wood/Flickr)The 2014 drought destroyed 80% of squash harvests in Tonga (Photo: Gary J. Wood/Flickr) 

Tonga Climate Service for Agriculture ( Management )



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