Forecasting: the future of disaster preparation?

  • By Sarah Lynagh, Andrew Robertson, Roop Singh
  • 31/08/2016

An Afghan man carries a solar panel as he wades through flood waters in the Behsud District of Nangarhar province, February 25, 2015. REUTERS/Parwiz


Picture this scenario: you are a development NGO worker who receives a significant flood watch for your area several days in advance of a massive storm system.

You may start coordinating with humanitarian agencies and local governments, but there is very little time to prepare for the event, and recovery supplies will probably not make it to the community for several weeks after the storm.

Now imagine a different scenario: you receive a flood watch for your area three weeks in advance of the storm.

Local governments are alerted by early warning systems that your NGO has helped set up, and begin to mobilise supplies and manpower. Local governments, humanitarian agencies and community members take preventative actions to anticipate the shock, and supplies are in place before the storm hits.

The latter is the ideal scenario, one that emergency managers and relief agencies dream of.

It is also the type of notice and preparation that could push BRACED communities to greatly enhance their capacity to anticipate disasters.

BRACED projects are making big strides in improving resilience in the face of climate extremes, but these efforts must be accompanied by actionable climate information that is provided with enough lead time to prepare for extreme events.

The Sub-seasonal to Seasonal (S2S) Prediction Project is working to realise this vision.


S2S is a research project that seeks to improve forecasting capability in the two-week to two-month range – the critical lead-time for mobilising resources ahead of an extreme weather event.

A joint initiative of the World Weather Research Programme and the World Climate Research Programme, commissioned by the World Meteorological Organisation, the project specifically focuses on high-impact weather events, or those events that have the potential to disrupt life and destroy property – such as floods, droughts, and heat waves.

Perhaps surprisingly, the ability to forecast extreme weather events one month in advance does not yet exist.

Meteorologists routinely issue weather forecasts up to five-seven days in advance, and climate experts can often provide skillful seasonal climate outlooks three months or more in advance.

The time in between these forecast periods, when weather and climate overlap, has long been considered a “predictability desert” where skillful forecasts could not be made. S2S aims to fill that gap by identifying where and when good forecasts may be possible, and developing the best probabilistic forecasting practices.

The International Research Institute for Climate and Society and the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre jointly developed a framework for describing how preparedness decisions, influenced by weather and climate information, can be allocated across timescales, using a range of forecasts.

This “ready-set-go” framework outlines potential preparedness actions based on a seasonal climate outlook, mid-range or sub-seasonal forecasts (this is where S2S comes in), or short-term weather forecasts, depending on the timeframe.

For example, a seasonal climate outlook that predicts higher-than-average precipitation over a region may trigger the training of volunteers and enable the local early warning system.

As S2S forecasts for a heavy rain event become available, they would help trigger more specific and targeted actions, such as warning the community and monitoring river levels.

S2S research will lay the foundation for real-time forecasting (provided through national met services) to support BRACED activities and communities.

For example, S2S forecasts could improve BRACED early warning systems, by giving communities more time to prepare for an extreme event.

Additionally, S2S forecasts could mitigate the effects of climate extremes on BRACED project implementation by allowing partners to anticipate potential disruptions caused by extreme events.

For example, the 2015 Ethiopia drought impacted beneficiaries of the Christian Aid and Farm Africa-led consortiums, through declines in food security, adoption of short-term coping mechanisms and a myriad of knock-on effects.

Adaptations in programming were undertaken by the consortia to deal with these effects. With greater foresight of possible shocks and stresses, these adaptations to programming can come earlier and prevent impacts before they occur. 

With more seamless and accurate forecasts from weeks to months in advance, communities could tailor their disaster preparation, with increasingly targeted actions occurring as more detailed forecasts are issued ahead of the event. 

In this way, preparedness could occur in stages, eliminating situations in which it is often too late to take precautionary measures in advance of a hazard.

For more information on this field and the S2S research Project, visit the project website at The BRACED Reality of Resilience team is working with this initiative to identify extreme events that are impacting BRACED projects and could potentially have been forecasted on the S2S timescale.

If you are interested in submitting an extreme event for study, please contact us at

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Braced or its partners.


From camel to cup

From Camel to Cup' explores the importance of camels and camel milk in drought ridden regions, and the under-reported medicinal and vital health benefits of camel milk


As climate risks rise, insurance needed to protect development

Less than 5 percent of disaster losses are covered by insurance in poorer countries, versus 50 percent in rich nations

Disasters happen to real people – and it's complicated

Age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and many more factors must be considered if people are to become resilient to climate extremes

NGOs are shaking up climate services in Africa. Should we be worried?

A concern is around the long-term viability of hard-fought development gains

The paradox of water development in Kenya's drylands

In Kenya's Wajir county, the emphasis on water development is happening at the expense of good water governance

Latest Photos


Update cookies preferences