Understanding and predicting hazardous weather: Where we have been, and where we are going
Deanna A. Hence, University of Illinois Urbana Champaign
Attempting to predict the weather, especially that which may harm us, has been with us as long as we have been human. As observational and modeling capacity has dramatically increased over the past 50 years, significant advances have also been made in understanding and predicting the many aspects of weather and its varied threats to human lives and livelihoods.
These advances have been made especially with respect to the location and timing of individual weather events, since these factors largely relate to a better understanding of the global circulation of the atmosphere on very large scales. However, significant improvements are still needed in predicting the severity and evolution of these phenomena. These issues of prediction typically lie in smaller scale factors that are very difficult to measure and extremely computationally expensive to resolve in numerical models. In addition, there remain significant gaps in understanding the link between these atmospheric processes and their impacts upon people, their environments, and their societies.
Numerous challenges remain in obtaining sufficient understanding of these phenomena, especially with climate change and shifts in human exposure and vulnerabilities. Moreover, many of these advances in understanding are unevenly distributed, with the speed of improvements in weather hazard prediction being heavily weighted towards those threats that endanger groups with substantial economic resources. This unevenness in attention to weather hazards and their outcomes vary not only across different societies and countries, but frequently within them as well. It is thus not difficult to imagine why widespread weather events are often part of the spark that ignite geopolitical conflicts, within and between the societies involved. The ability to understand and predict hazardous weather events and their impacts are inherently a key component to understanding and predicting a society’s resilience to stress.
This introductory talk will provide a brief summary of the global distribution of hazardous weather and their varied impacts upon the societies of the world. These threats span from direct threats to human life to potential impacts upon food, water, shelter, disease, and other societal and economic interests. This summary will provide a brief synopsis of current observational and numerical weather prediction needs, as well as identify regions that remain particularly understudied, usually due to a lack of scientific infrastructure and resources. This talk will conclude with a brief discussion of how these hazardous events, and their prediction, are anticipated to change in our warming climate.