Warmest Winter Inspires Weather Experts to Improve Services

MADRID, Spain, March 19, 2007 (ENS) - Global warming is in the spotlight as the World Meteorological Organization, WMO, today opened a four day conference aimed at strengthening weather, climate and water services around the world.

Global temperatures have been higher this winter than at any time since since recordkeeping began in 1800, according to the U.S. government agency that keeps track of weather conditions.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, said Thursday that the combined global land and ocean surface temperature from December through February was 0.72 degrees Celsius (1.30 degrees Fahrenheit) above the 20th century mean.

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Surface air temperature anomaly mapped for November 2006. The El Nino warming pattern shows as a green area off the west coast of South America. (Image by the NOAA-CIRES Climate Diagnostics Center, Boulder Colorado )
El Nino conditions contributed to the season's record warmth, but the episode rapidly weakened in February, as ocean temperatures in the central equatorial Pacific cooled until they approached average for the month, NOAA said.

In the Netherlands, it was the mildest winter since regular temperature observations were started in 1706,according to the national Meteorological Institute, KMNI. Although February data is not yet in, KMNI says that December and January were much warmer than usual across large parts of Europe.

Hundreds of experts from around the world are participating in the WMO event, which was organized under the patronage of Queen Sofia of Spain with the support of the Ministry of Environment of Spain, through the National Meteorological Institute.

Spanish Environment Minister Cristina Narbona Ruiz said the conference "comes at a time when worldwide concern is at a historical high over weather, climate and water related issues some of which have been affecting Spain for many years."

"It's vital that our experience in addressing these issues be shared with all countries and that we in turn can learn from and apply the expertise of others," the minister said.

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Spanish Environment Minister Cristina Narbona Ruiz (Photo courtesy Office of the Minister)
The conference, titled Secure and Sustainable Living: Social and Economic Benefits of Weather, Climate and Water Services, is expected to review the ways in which everyday social and economic decisions are influenced by weather, climate and water information and the benefits that this information actually provides to society and to socio-economic development.

Extreme hydrometeorological events, which account for 90 percent of all natural disasters, have led in recent years to catastrophes with terrible consequences.

WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said, "Droughts, floods, tropical cyclones, severe storms, cold and hot spells can cause loss of life and property, famine, mass migration, disease, pollution and environmental degradation, as well other far-reaching threats and disasters."

"However," he said, "appropriate weather, climate and water services can help societies prevent, or reduce substantially, much of the death toll and destruction."

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Satellite image of the weather over Europe and northwestern Africa today. (Image courtesy National Meteorological Institute of Spain)
Jarraud said, "These services can also assist us in the adaptation to climate change and in improving our use of clean energy and fresh water resources, managing and protecting our natural ecosystems, developing sustainable agricultural practices, increasing food security and reducing some of the risks affecting recreation and tourism, transportation and other important sectors."

The conference provides a forum for dialogue among the producers and end users of weather, climate and water information and an opportunity for national meteorological and hydrological services, NMHSs, to learn more about how their products and services are appraised and used and what improvements might be made.

Conference participants will examine the process of making such decisions and craft a set of recommendations on how information providers might adapt to the needs of decision makers.

Another goal of the conference is for users of this information, especially decision makers, to better understand the current capabilities and limitations of NMHSs.

WMO President Alexander Bedritsky stressed, "It's clear that NMHSs in many countries are cripplingly underfunded and lack political influence at the highest level."

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Rainfall gauges and thermometers are located at climate stations throughout Canada's Atlantic Provinces. They are part of a national network that adheres to international standards for determining locations and measurements as specified in the World Climate Data and Monitoring Program. (Photo courtesy Environment Canada)
"This conference can address these challenges by increasing the overall understanding of how all sectors of society are dependent on weather, climate and water related services while laying the groundwork for their modernization and development," Bedritsky said.

A comprehensive publication on the global social and economic benefits of meteorological and related information, including case studies, best practices and useful recommendations is expected to result from the conference.

Information that allows climate scientists to model global warming and produce reports such as the February report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change depends upon the accuracy and completeness of data gathered by national meteorological and hydrological services around the world.

During the past century, scientists agree, global surface temperatures have increased at a rate near 0.06 degrees Celsius (0.11 degrees Fahrenheit) per decade.

The rate of increase has been three times larger since 1976 - 0.18 degrees Celsius (0.32 degrees Fahrenheit) per decade, with some of the greatest temperature increases occurring in the high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere.