On the reliability of seasonal climate forecasts

TitleOn the reliability of seasonal climate forecasts
Publication TypeMiscellaneous
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsWeisheimer, A, Palmer, TN
Secondary TitleTechnical Memorandum
Date PublishedApril
Type of WorkTechnical Memorandum

Seasonal climate forecasts are being used increasingly across a range of application sectors. A recent UK governmental report asked: How good are seasonal forecasts on a scale of 1-5 (where 5 is very good), and how good can we expect them to be in 30 years time? Seasonal forecasts are made from ensembles of integrations of numerical models of climate. We argue that “goodness” should be assessed first and foremost in terms of the probabilistic reliability of these ensemble-based forecasts; reliable inputs are essential for any forecast-based decision making. We propose that a “5” should be reserved for systems which are not only reliable overall, but where, in particular, small ensemble spread is a reliable indicator of low ensemble forecast error. We study the reliability of regional temperature and precipitation forecasts of the current operational seasonal forecast system of the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, universally regarded as one of the world leading operational institutes producing seasonal climate forecasts. A wide range of “goodness” rankings, depending on region and variable (with summer forecasts of rainfall over Northern Europe performing exceptionally poorly) is found. Finally, we discuss the prospects of reaching “5” across all regions and variables in 30 years time.