What is the value of seasonal forecasts?

  • By Saroja Schwager, Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre
  • 29/08/2018

A South Sudanese woman uses her mobile phone in Adjumani district, Uganda August 2, 2017. REUTERS/James Akena


What is the value of seasonal forecast information for people vulnerable to climate shocks? Is this type of knowledge sufficient on its own or is it not enough?

In a webinar hosted by Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED), speakers from a variety of international institutions and organizations discussed how this issue has played out in projects from the climate services and disaster preparedness fields.

By giving information about the seasonal total precipitation expected in a three-month period, based on 30-year averages, seasonal forecasts can provide users with advanced notice of potential risks. But in sharing the messages of a seasonal forecast, there are several major areas where communication failure can occur. These often range from a confusing use of colors to misinterpretation by the media.

When making decisions using seasonal forecasts, people can be more strongly influenced by other factors such as production goals, the amount of skilled labor available, and access to resources.

As Red Cross Climate Centre climate risk advisor Roop Singh detailed, the human brain can use shortcuts to help make quick decisions, often based on intuition and defective reasoning. In response to these cognitive biases, both researchers and practitioners need to pay greater attention to how and why people make certain decisions, especially in times of uncertainty and stress.

Past and ongoing BRACED projects have already demonstrated how seasonal forecasts need to be used in conjunction with other information and sources of knowledge. Richard Ewbank, a global climate advisor from Christian Aid, detailed how user skepticism, gender differences, and the timing and setting in which seasonal forecasts are released all affect how they are used.

Fortunately, there are a variety of tools available for evaluating the use of seasonal forecasts, both in terms of access and use as well as impacts and benefits.

In the African agricultural sector, the effectiveness of seasonal forecasts has been mixed, as detailed by social scientist Cathy Vaughn from the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI). Factors such as region, demographic characteristics, and type of information all contribute to varied success. Looking at livelihood strategy, for example, the largest gains were seen among farmers, where 70 percent of those who had access to seasonal forecasts reported using them.

Seasonal forecasts have already shown great promise in increasing local understanding of future climate risks. Going forward, the issue becomes how to more effectively tailor seasonal forecast information to fully meet user needs on a case-by-case basis.


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