Farmers still cannot control the weather but forecasts are getting far more location specific.
Last week at the Grasslands Society of Southern Australia pasture update at Conmurra Station, the Bureau of Meteorology’s Alister Hawksford stressed farmers could pinpoint seven-day forecasts to farm level.
He explained how they could put in the coordinates of their farm in the MetEye section of the BoM website or simply scroll and click on the map to get the chance of rain, humidity or wind speed broken down into three-hourly intervals.
“We are not providing a forecast for somewhere down the road, it is right where you want it,” he said.
Mr Hawksford said the BoM’s “super computer” under the watchful eye of local forecasters compared the best models across the world in its forecasts and took into account 10 million atmospheric observations each day, plus one billion satellite observations.
State-based forecasters then refine this further using local climatic knowledge.
“You don’t need to compare yr.no (Norwegian site) with the United States naval base or some other website – we have already done that.”
Mr Hawksford, who is the sector lead for beef, sheep and ag insurance, said agriculture was one of five main focal sectors for the Bureau.
Similar to the MetEye tool, historical soil moisture was an important tool and is available for any farm in the BoM's Australian Landscape Water Balance section.
Mr Hawksford said the three-month seasonal climate outlooks were about stacking the odds in farmers’ favour, rather than specific outcomes.
“Don’t assume it is 100 per cent right every time. It is a long game,” he said.
“If someone could promise you that in a trip to the casino you are were going to win six out of 10 times, you would be cheering.”
“I realise in farming if you lose that bet four years in a row, then you are right up against it, but these outlooks stack the odds in your favour.”
The accuracy for three-month forecasts varied greatly across and within regions from about 45pc to 75pc, Mr Hawsksford said.
It was therefore critical farmers checked the skill (past accuracy) before basing their decisions on the forecast.
For March to May the BoM is forecasting average rainfall and above average temperatures for the South East, but Mr Hawksford warned the accuracy of this was greater south of Naracoorte.
Minimum temperatures are also likely to be higher but past accuracy of this was much less reliable, particularly north of Coonawarra.
Mr Hawksford said the BoM were working on ways those recording weather observations, such as farmers, could input their rainfall data into a common place.
It has also adapted the United Kingdom Meteorology office’s Weather Observation Website to Australian conditions.
“Our next step is to produce a pipeline which can ingest information from hundreds of third party weather stations at a time and push it into our products and services,” he said.
“If farmers supplied us with their rainfall we could fill in a lot of blanks.”
In coming months Mr Hawksford said there would be some exciting developments, including cumulative 24-hour radar, adjusted with rain gauges in the area, and Nowcasting (very short range forecasts).
“For example, a farmer may be sitting there looking at the radar and estimating where or when the rain will hit,” he said.
“Instead of them guessing where it will go, the Bureau will provide a nowcast fo the next hour or so.”
The release of the BoM's seasonal forecast model, ACCESS-S, later this year will improve the forecast resolution from 250 kilometres to 60km.
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