Weather: can we predict the upredictable?
The band Crowded House told us “everywhere you go, you always take the weather with you”, but we know this is silly because weather is notoriously difficult to predict, despite technological advances. A group of Finns (from Finland, not the band members!) thinks they might have the solution to the weather dilemma.
We have all tried to have a barbeque or an outdoor wedding with everything planned and orchestrated, then we turn to the weather forecast and read: “sunny spells with the chance of showers”. Do we cancel or brave on? Forecasts like this can ruin our best-laid plans and spoil what should be a memorable and special day. Finnish meteorologists want to change all this with their ‘precision weather service’.
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A precision weather forecast, they say, will predict when the sun comes out or when the rain will stop. It will even forewarn of fog along the road or a major shipping path. But how can they do this, when others can’t? Apparently, it is all in the scale of the prediction.
The Helsinki Testbed project behind this new precision weather service comes in two parts. The first, launched by the Finnish Meteorological Institute in 2005, focuses on providing wide-ranging new weather services. The second, developed by Vaisala Measurements Systems, concentrates on new space-based observational systems.
Getting precise weather data requires forecasting on a so-called ‘mesoscale’, which in meteorological terms, means a distance of 1 to 30 kilometres and a time span of 0 to 3 hours. For this type of immediate forecasting the conventional observation networks and prediction models are too dispersed, according to the Finns.
For the Testbed project, Vaisala built a dense weather and environmental measurements network that makes use of wireless data transmission technology. The system also includes a database and a web-user interface. And, what’s more, it us open to contributions from other countries.
“New parties are free to join the system and use it for their own purposes, while at the same time diversifying the system through their own input. Accessibility and scalability promote innovation and encourage networking among the players in the environmental measurement sector,” says project manager Heikki Turtiainen of Vaisala.
And the international community appears to be interested. Growing concern about weather-related disasters, such as last month’s floods in central Europe, puts pressure on meteorologists to improve their observation and prediction accuracy. “Several international research teams have indicated their willingness to join Testbed by offering their equipment for use in the project,” Turtiainen says.
Testbed is part of the Finnish ‘Business Opportunities from Space Technology’ programme launched by Tekes, the national Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation. The project will produce a development platform combining a range of observational instruments, analysis and forecast models and environment-related weather services.
The EU also supports high-level research into Earth Observation for meteorological and environmental changes through its contributions to GEOSS (Global Earth Observation System of Systems) and GMES (Global Monitoring for Environment and Security), and other activities, such as INSPIRE (Infrastructure for Spatial Information in Europe).
EU Source, Tekes
Helsinki TestbedTekesEarth Observation (Research DG on Europa)