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The Evolution of CariCOF

The Early Years

In response to the strongest El Niño on record (the 1997 to 1998 event), the first Caribbean Climate Outlook Forum (CariCOF) was convened on May 21-22, 1998 in Jamaica. As is now typical of RCOFs across the globe, the Caribbean event formulated a consensus precipitation forecast for the Caribbean for the period of June-July-August 1998 (http://iri.columbia.edu/climate/forecast/sup/May98_CAm/). Though originally intended for CIMH to produce the forecasts with the assistance of regional meteorologists and research groups, the exercise was soon left to CIMH to produce alone.
The second CariCOF was held in Barbados in April 1999. The aim of this Forum was to discuss the regional climate events since the first Forum, to consider the recommendations of that Forum, to develop a consensus climate outlook for the months of May, June, July, 1999 and to evaluate the three-month precipitation outlooks which the CIMH had produced.
Presentations were made by representatives of several regional meteorological services, the CIMH and other organizations. Participants were divided into two working groups, representing users and producers, with several recommendations being made by the two groups.
A third CariCOF was convened in the Dominican Republic in May 2000.
From 1999 up until 2011, CIMH produced zero- month lead three month tercile precipitation outlooks every 2 months starting January – a total of six information products per year. Verification information using a simple method was also provided to give credibility to the forecast process. Any value falling within 10% of the long-term average was considered normal, while larger positive (negative) anomalies were considered as above (below) normal.
The data used in producing these forecasts were obtained from climate forecast maps published by the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) from climatological means and expected sea surface temperature conditions. The Cuban Meteorological Service and the Physics Department of the University of the West Indies at Mona, Jamaica, also provided forecast precipitation probabilities. There was, however, a significant subjective input into the forecast production based on the level of agreement between the different model outputs and the confidence of the forecasters in the different predictions.

Re-Establishment of CariCOF

Unlike RCOFs across the globe where seasonal or annual forums were held that also engages the user community, very few forums were held in the Caribbean – at least none between 2000 and 2010. It took yet another El Niño event for Caribbean and international partners to rejuvenate CariCOF. The 2009 to 2010 event took a toll on regional water resources to the extent that CARICOM Heads of Government requested CIMH and the then Caribbean Environmental Health Institute (CEHI )(now the Caribbean Public Health Agency – CARPHA) to prepare a status report on drought that was discussed at two subsequent High Level meetings (Farrell et al 2010).
The impacts from the 2009 to 2010 events again placed focus on Early Warning information associated with the ENSO phenomenon and the hurricane season ahead. With assistance from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other international partners such as the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), IRI, The US Geological Survey (USGS), The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and regional partners such as the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) and the University of the West Indies (UWI), the CariCOF re-establishment workshop was held in Barbados in June 2010. The goals of the workshop were to:

  • Develop a sustained collaborative process for credible and authoritative early warnings across climate timescales drawing upon multiple warning sources (regional, national, local) and partnerships
  • Provide guidance on the development of early warning information systems for critical integrated thresholds (physical, economic, social environmental) across spatial and temporal climatic scales
  • Enable regional, country and local level managers to provide more preparedness and adaptation guidance based on risk indicators and triggers for particular decisions
  • Enhance the capability to adapt the early warning enterprise as new issues (e.g. ocean acidification) emerge and the climate changes

The follow up to the re-establishment of CariCOF, led to a training exercise for meteorologists and climatologists in the art of forecasting using the IRI’s Climate Predictability Tool (CPT) in February 2012. The training preceded a forum that brought together key regional and international partners and users of climate information who discussed the rainfall forecast and its implications, as well as other climate information needs and gaps.

The New Dispensation

Since the 2012 CARICOF, the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH) has been coordinating climate forecasting activities leading to a consistently growing body of Caribbean climate forecasters contributing to the monthly production of consensus-based seasonal climate outlooks. The forecasters also engage the user community, allowing awareness-building within sector communities that are sensitive to climate. During these sessions, users also get the opportunity to identify their climate information needs and how existing products can be interpreted to support decision-making. Equally important is the opportunity presented to meteorologists and climatologists and the user community to interface, and to build mutual understanding and trust. It is also from 2012 that monthly updates, rather than the bi-monthly as from the 1999, of the precipitation outlooks were prepared.
Another significant decision at the 2012 CariCOF was the recommendation to pursue hosting CariCOF bi-annually, just prior to the beginning of the wet and dry seasons, and roving across the region so that more national agencies can be exposed to the forum. Since 2012, CariCOFs were held in Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, St. Lucia and Dominica prior to the 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 wet/hurricane seasons, respectively; and in Antigua and Barbuda and St. Kitts and Nevis prior to the dry seasons of 2014-2015 and 2015-2016.
At each CariCOF since 2012, meteorologists were trained in using the CPT to produce seasonal outlooks with little subjective input. The minimal subjective changes are at the end during the consensus process, which normally suggest recommends very few changes to the outlooks. The objective part of the process is now automated through the development of the CariCOF Outlook Generator (CAROGEN), which allows forecasters to perform a series of homogeneous experiments nationally and across the Caribbean. Verification is now done using the Probabilistic Forecast Verification tool in CPT.
The capacity built in the Caribbean resulted in a suite of outlook products by the end of 2015 that have moved well beyond the 0-month lead seasonal rainfall outlook, and also includes:

  • Seasonal rainfall outlook map (3-month lead).
  • Seasonal minimum temperature outlook map (0-month lead).
  • Seasonal minimum temperature outlook map (3-month lead).
  • Seasonal maximum temperature outlook map (0-month lead).
  • Seasonal maximum temperature outlook map (3-month lead).
  • Seasonal mean temperature outlook map (0-month lead).
  • Seasonal mean temperature outlook map (3-month lead).
  • Drought Outlooks, that are accompanied by alert information based on excedence forecasts of the Standardised Precipitation Index (SPI) (six- and twelve-month SPIs).
  • Extreme rainfall within the 0-month lead, three month outlook period – this represents a range of operational products that quantify forecast frequencies of wet days and increasingly extreme wet spells.

 
Other forecast products are currently being investigated. These include heat wave and dry spell forecasts.
Many thanks go out to the CIMH pioneers of CariCOF – Mr. Selvin Burton, Mr. Horace Burton and Dr. Colin Depradine. CIMH are forever grateful for the seeds you have sown.