Dozens of northern and southern livestock locations have been built into testing a range of new experimental climate forecasting products aimed at improving producer preparedness for extreme events.
The Bureau of Meteorology, working with several research partners, is developing forecasts of the likelihood of climate extremes on multi-week and seasonal timescales - beyond the seven-day weather forecast.
It's part of a large project, called Forewarned is Forearmed, which is managed by Meat & Livestock Australia, with funding from several research and development corporations, universities, state departments and the Federal Government.
Extremes of heat, cold and rainfall are the focus.
The aim is to answer questions like 'What is the likelihood of having a decile 10 rainfall this spring?' or 'what is the chance of having a heatwave in the week after next?'.
The work will provide farmers with the first ever forecasts of climate extremes in the weeks to seasons ahead.
Prototypes are now ready and reference groups from the red meat livestock sector, along with dairy, grains, sugar and viticulture industries, are evaluating the tools.
Their feedback is vital in helping the Bureau to decide what is valuable and refine them to better serve user needs, says climate scientist at the Bureau Dr Debbie Hudson.
One prototype with broad application would allow users to identify extreme heat events up to four weeks ahead.
This type of forecast could be used by those who need to mitigate the impact of heat on livestock, manage irrigation supplies or simply to plan activities around avoiding the hottest part of the day.
Other extreme heat prototypes developed so far include maps of heat waves and numbers of hot days, as well as charts of temperature projections and the temperature-humidity index for specific stations.
Another prototype will expand on the Bureau's current seasonal rainfall outlooks, by providing more detailed forecasts that show the probability of rainfall across five decile ranges, Dr Hudson explained.
"If we can help producers to understand the likelihood and potential extent of extreme weather events beyond the seven-day weather forecast, that can put them in a better position to prepare, hopefully limiting the impact on-farm," she said.
The improved forecasting services will be made available as a Bureau service via its website, and it is anticipated they may also interface with other producer websites and decision support products.
"Part of the project is also about understanding the large scale climate drivers that can help us predict extremes," Dr Hudson said.
"That is to understand when the climate is in a particular state what does that mean about whether we are more likely to have extremes."
One of the most exciting aspects to the project was is the end-to-end approach, she said, whereby the reference groups were trialing the prototypes and providing continual feedback.
"This is really valuable because we are hearing what is useful and what isn't," Dr Hudson said.
"Forecasts are complicated because they are all about probabilities. It's important we identify how we can better present forecasts and communicate what they are actually saying."
The work will enable a wide range of tactical and strategic decision making on-farm, she said, from low-cost actions such as moving stock to shady paddocks to big things like changing irrigation schedules.
Knowing of an increased chance of decile 1 or 2 for the upcoming rainfall season could inform pasture management, she said.
Dr Hudson explained that accuracy varies a large amount depending on what was being forecast - for instance there is usually more accuracy for temperature than rainfall - and how far into the future, what time of year and what region.
"A key point is we assess how good the forecasts are over a long period in the past, so we can get an idea of how good they are in the future," she said.
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