FWFA Project Summary

What’s the chance of next week or next month being extremely wet (decile 9 & 10)? What’s the chance of having a hot (decile 9 & 10) week in three or four weeks’ time or a very hot month, next month, or the month after? What’s the chance of having a very dry (decile 1 & 2) month, next month, or the month after?

These are the sort of questions that a large collaborative project is seeking to answer, so that Australian farmers are well informed and have advanced warning of extreme weather events such as heatwaves, cold snaps, dry periods and heavy rainfall.

Australian farmers and agribusiness operate in one of the most variable climates of any country in the world, with extreme events and climate variability one of the largest drivers of fluctuations in annual agricultural production and income.

Today, considerable use is made of weather forecasts (days 1–7) for extreme events. However, there is no information available to farmers on the odds of extreme events in the weeks or seasons ahead. Forecasts of extreme events will provide opportunities for farmers to develop proactive response planning at farm-gate levels. It might be moving freshly shorn sheep to sheltered paddocks ahead of unseasonal cold and wet conditions or shifting livestock to higher ground if extreme rainfall is predicted. Responses in cropping might involve decisions on crop choice, planting time and fertiliser rates. A wine grape grower might schedule extra irrigation before a forecast heat event. 

The project Forewarned is Forearmed (FWFA): equipping farmers and agricultural value chains to proactively manage the impacts of extreme climate events (RnD4P-16-03-007), runs from 2017-2022 and will provide five new forecast products for extreme events weeks to months ahead. Funding partners include the Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources as part of its Rural Research and Development (R&D) for Profit Program ($6m), with further cash and in-kind contributions ($8m) from 14 project partners. The project lead is Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA).

There are already several experimental forecast products being trialled by reference groups of Australian farmers and their feedback is helping to determine their utility and make them easier to understand and use. The products being trialled range from probability maps for Australia (but more detailed than the above/below median forecasts that exist today) to specific forecasts for hundreds of Australian towns. The first publicly available product will be listed on the Bureau website in early 2021. Examples of some of these products are shown below. The reference groups of farmers are also contributing by identifying and prioritising extreme events of most risk to their industries – and exploring best practice options and tools to help manage that risk.

Contact details:

  • If you would like to join the FWFA Community of Practice and be copied in on monthly webinars contact Kate Finger at BCG (E: kate.finger@bcg.org.au)
  • If you would like to learn more about FWFA, please contact Doug McNichol at MLA (E: dmcnicholl@mla.com.au) or the National Coordinator Russell Pattinson (E: miracledog@bigpond.com).
  • If you would like to review the experimental products, contact Russell Pattinson or Dr Deb Hudson at the Bureau (E: Debbie.Hudson@bom.gov.au)
Figure 1: Example of the chance of having an extremely dry summer (amongst the driest fifth in the climatology period). The forecast shown here is for the Nov-Dec-Jan season and is suggesting an elevated risk of having decile 1 or 2 rainfall totals over much of eastern and southern Australia (probabilities are greater than the usual risk of 20% over large areas). Over some of these areas the risk is more than doubled (>40%). However, over much of north western Australia and Victoria (areas shown in white), the chance of a really dry summer is no different to long term odds of 20%.

Figure 2. Maximum temperature forecasts for 3 to 9 September 2019 (generated on the 20th August) show the variation in conditions around Australia. These experimental forecasts show the probabilities across five different decile ranges for each station. The long-term average probability (climatology) for each category is 20% and the forecast shows the shift in the expected outcome compared to climatology. In the example, there is a shift towards an increased likelihood of hot conditions for Applethorpe (more than double the usual risk for having decile 9 or 10), whereas for Burnie there is a shift in the odds towards colder temperatures. 

Figure 3: This forecast shows that there is a chance of having a heatwave at some stage in the week of 25-31 December over large areas of southern and north-western Australia. A heatwave is defined as having three or more consecutive days of temperature greater than the 90th percentile for a given region. The 90th percentile varies with region – this means that the threshold for a heatwave is different between, for example, Brisbane and Hobart. The 90th percentile threshold is calculated by looking back over the historical period for the particular time of year of interest. 10% of days are hotter than this threshold. The index will capture “warm waves” in the winter half of the year (i.e., unusually warm periods) because the threshold is determined relative to the given time of year.

Project partners:

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