Embracing the virtual challenge: UEF2020

Becky Hemingway, Anna Ghelli, Esperanza Cuartero


This year’s Using ECMWF’s Forecasts (UEF) meeting was held virtually from 1 to 4 June. The online meeting attracted 227 people from over 40 countries, many more than ECMWF has been able to accommodate at previous UEF events on its premises, increasing the reach of the event to the wide community of ECMWF users. This year’s theme, ‘Keeping users at the heart of operations’, encouraged the exploration of end-user needs for users from all over the world. Participants discussed how weather and environmental information providers can meet those needs by delivering added-value outputs.

Embracing the virtual challenge: UEF2020

Users are key to everything that is done at ECMWF. Two‑way communication between users and data providers and effective channels to collect feedback and advice are essential to ensure both parties can perform at their best. UEF2020 focused on four thematic areas: research to operations and operations to research; novel products and services; integrating new products in established processes; and userfocused planning.

In addition to plenary session talks, a variety of formats were used in the virtual environment: poster sessions, a User Voice Corner, Speakers’ Corner talks, virtual breakout groups and interactive activities.

Meeting highlights

ECMWF Director of Forecasts Florian Pappenberger gave a presentation on current and future upgrades of the Centre’s Integrated Forecasting System (IFS), improvements in forecast performance, Metview’s new Python interface, and available learning and training resources. He also gave an update on the construction of ECMWF’s new data centre in Bologna, Italy. Thomas Haiden (ECMWF) went into more detail on ECMWF’s forecast performance, including substantial improvements due to IFS Cycle 46r1. He also talked about how COVID‑19 has reduced the amount of aircraft data received, while pointing out that this has not had a major impact on performance scores.

Informal meetings.
Informal meetings. Conversations over Coffee helped attendees to meet one another and provided a forum to discuss topics they were interested in.

Florian also highlighted that ECMWF is making a significant effort, through a number of initiatives, to support applications of artificial intelligence and machine learning and to identify how such applications may improve numerical weather prediction. 

His remarks were complemented by David Hall’s (Nvidia) presentation on ‘Machine Learning for Weather’, which clearly articulated the gains which can be made, by both data providers and users, by using machine learning in weather prediction.

Attendees were given an overview of the Research to Operations (R2O) process at ECMWF by Jenny Rourke and Michael Sleigh (ECMWF). They highlighted the many ways users can feed into the R2O process, including during UEF2020; provided examples of user feedback leading to improvements in operations; and asked participants for feedback using interactive polls.

A number of novel products, services and tools were presented throughout UEF2020, including using ECMWF ensemble products in tropical cyclone field campaign planning and using seasonal data to optimise hydropower stations in South America. Thomas Leppelt (DWD) showcased his work using sub-seasonal data to forecast agricultural droughts with diagrams illustrating soil moisture forecasts and forecast skill in Germany. Richard Dixon (CatInsight, University of Reading) explored ECMWF’s ERA5 reanalysis vs SEAS5 seasonal forecasts from an insurance loss forecast perspective, showing differences in loss model output when using windstorm data. 

The technology behind UEF2020

Running a fully online event poses challenges but also brings great opportunities and benefits, with technology helping to make it happen. Technology allowed ECMWF users from all over the world to attend the meeting; it allowed speakers to present their work without having to travel, thus reducing carbon footprints; and it enabled participants to play along with interactive sessions and provide feedback from their own homes. 

ECMWF organisers created a website dedicated to the UEF which featured everything a participant needed to fully engage with the event. Plenary presentations were live-streamed with each presentation and poster having a dedicated page where comment boxes allowed conversations to continue throughout the event. Poster sessions were held using ‘drop-in’ virtual rooms where attendees could meet authors to discuss their work. The User Voice Corner used virtual breakout groups to have more focused discussions on specific topics. Conversations over Coffee meetings were held for participants to network during breaks, an important part of any event. Interactive sessions engaged the audience using walkthrough demos that could be played with online and online apps which gathered valuable feedback.


Poster presentation topics included Chun-Kit Ho’s (Hong Kong Observatory) work on an informative global heatwave risk alert system; Roberta Amorati (ARPAE, Italy) showed how climate change affects air quality with a focus on particulate matter and ozone; and Biserka Frankovic (Croatia Control) presented a project providing graphical route forecasts of meteorological phenomena for aviation.

Popular UEF sessions such as User Voice Corner and Speaker’s Corner still took place, albeit virtually. Tim Hewson (ECMWF) presented the outcomes of the User Voice Survey, which collected feedback on ECMWF products and services and asked users to suggest ideas for the future. Breakout groups then focused on specific topics, including extendedrange (monthly) forecast products, precipitation forecast issues and ecCharts and meteograms. Speaker’s Corner demonstrated new CAPE and CIN parameters, meteogram updates and tropical cyclone radius improvements.

Positive feedback.
Positive feedback. Some of the feedback received from participants in UEF2020.

The last morning of UEF2020 was dedicated to three EU-funded Copernicus Services in which ECMWF is involved, with talks on various aspects of the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) and the Copernicus Atmospheric Monitoring Service (CAMS), both implemented by ECMWF, and on the Copernicus Emergency Management Service (CEMS), to which the Centre contributes. Vincent-Henri Peuch (ECMWF) discussed changes in air quality across the globe due to COVID-19 using CAMS data, showing a decrease in nitrogen dioxide levels by over 50% in Madrid compared to forecasts without COVID-19. CAMS data is also used in Capgemini’s AsSISt airline maintenance service, presented by Carine Saüt and Nicolas Estival, an innovative tool which provides indicators to airline companies and aircraft manufacturers of plane exposure to harmful, abrasive particles based on their flight path, allowing them to optimise maintenance and repair plans.

Attendees were pleased about the way in which UEF2020 had been organised online. Comments included: “Many thanks to all the organizers for making the UEF possible!”, “Thanks a lot for this event, EC again proves it’s a team of very innovative people!” and “This has set the standard for virtual conferences!”. Positive feedback was received on the sessions and the opportunities to engage with ECMWF staff.

The most quoted word to describe UEF2020 was ‘communication’. This is fitting as UEF’s spirit has always been to facilitate two-way communication with users. All the presentations, posters and session recordings are available on the ECMWF website at: https://www.