More data needed, oth­er­wise things fine

Central Otago Mirror - - WANAKA NEWS - By MARY-JO TO­HILL

It comes as a sur­prise to vis­it­ing Ger­man-born me­te­o­rol­o­gist Anna Mikalsen that gen­er­ally speak­ing, New Zealan­ders are ob­sessed with the weather.

For ex­am­ple, our pre­vail­ing winds are named by their di­rec­tion, and per­son­i­fied as the cranky nor’wester or the scream­ing southerly.

Ki­wis even fondly re­fer to the cli­mate as ‘‘she’’ (she’s a cold one to­day).

To cover them­selves for the un­pre­dictabil­ity of our weather, fore­cast­ers tend to fall back on the ‘‘oth­er­wise fine’’ one-size-fits-all Kiwi weather pre­dic­tion.

This ex­pres­sion amused Mikalsen, who has been work­ing with Alexan­dra-based at­mo­spheric sci­en­tist Greg Bodeker for the last month. She said that Euro­peans de­mand a far greater de­gree of cer­tainty in weather pre­dic­tion than New Zealan­ders.

‘‘Peo­ple have given up here . . . they just want to know if there’s go­ing to be heavy rain!’’

The in­fer­ence was that if New Zealan­ders are so ob­sessed with the weather, why are we not bet­ter at fore­cast­ing it?

But then, what would neigh­bours talk about when they met, or co-work­ers around the wa­ter cooler at work, if the weather, not to men­tion the fore­cast, wasn’t un­pre­dictable.

Mikalsen ob­served that New Zealan­ders seem to have be­come re­signed to a storm hit­ting 16 hours later than pre­dicted, but peo­ple in Europe would want to know ex­actly what time to ex­pect a storm – and the pre­dic­tion would be ac­cu­rate, she said.

How­ever, she ac­knowl­edged that Europe had a greater land­mass, far more peo­ple and in­fra­struc­ture, and that weather pat­terns were more sta­ble, com­pared with this coun­try.

De­spite be­ing a sparsely pop­u­lated is­land na­tion and so far south, dom­i­nated by moun­tains and sea, New Zealand had the ca­pa­bil­ity of build­ing more weather pre­dic­tion in­fra­struc­ture than else­where in the Pa­cific re­gion, and that the data gath­ered could be shared world-wide to im­prove the ac­cu­racy of weather forecasts, she said.

New Zealand was for­tu­nate to have fa­cil­i­ties such as NIWA’s Lauder Sta­tion, near Alexan­dra, which was par­tic­u­larly ad­vanced in mea­sure­ments and rich in in­stru­men­ta­tion, Mikalsen said. But the coun­try did not have as many spots that were as per­fectly sit­u­ated.

‘‘There are not many ob­ser­va­tion places in the South­ern Hemi­sphere. There’s a lot of sea and not much land. So it’s very im­por­tant to get re­li­able in­for­ma­tion where pos­si­ble . . . if you haven’t mea­sured it, you don’t have the data.’’

For in­stance, World Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal Or­gan­i­sa­tion lit­er­a­ture recog­nised that the Pa­cific Is­land re­gion was a crit­i­cally vul­ner­a­ble area of the world when it comes to the is­sue of cli­mate change. It is the home of the El Nin˜ o South­ern Os­cil­la­tion phe­nom­e­non, and the re­gion’s cli­mate has sig­nif­i­cant global im­pli­ca­tions.

While Ki­wis might strug­gle to un­der­stand where they fit into the world-wide weather pre­dic­tion business, Mikalsen re­minded us that weather has no bound­aries. What hap­pens seem­ingly a world away in Europe can af­fect us in New Zealand, and con­versely, what hap­pens at the bot­tom of the world can af­fect our north­ern hemi­sphere cousins. And the more fore­warn­ing we had through data col­lec­tion and shar­ing, the bet­ter, she said.


Weather fore­cast­ing is a huge de­vel­op­ing mar­ket, ac­cord­ing to vis­it­ing sci­en­tist and Global Cli­mate Ob­serv­ing Sys­tem co­or­di­na­tor, Anna Mikalsen, who has been based in Geneva, Switzer­land, for the past six years. For ex­am­ple, prac­ti­cal ap­pli­ca­tion of this knowl­edge goes into the en­ergy mar­ket, such as the pro­duc­tion of wind and so­lar power. Weather pre­dic­tion know-how is also used in agri­cul­ture. For ex­am­ple, the abil­ity to pre­dict pre­cip­i­ta­tion is vi­tal to food pro­duc­tion. Th­ese prin­ci­ples also ap­ply to the home build­ing mar­ket. For in­stance, be­ing Euro­pean, Mikalsen is not the first vis­i­tor to ex­press her amaze­ment that more New Zealand houses, con­sid­er­ing the coun­try’s vari­able cli­mate, are not prop­erly in­su­lated or dou­ble-glazed, or that sus­tain­able re­sources, such as so­lar power, are not more widely used, which would save on en­ergy and cut down on green­house gas emis­sions. There’s weather in New Zealand and plenty of it: Global Cli­mate Ob­serv­ing Sys­tem co-or­di­na­tor Anna Mikalsen is help­ing to en­cour­age more world-wide data-shar­ing.

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