More data needed, otherwise things fine
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.