NIWA and the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) are joining forces to develop a new drought forecasting tool.
It will use innovative climate modelling and data-driven techniques to help farmers and growers better prepare for dry weather and drought.
Each organisation has invested $100,000 in the project.
The drought forecasting tool is part of the NIWA 35 project led by data scientist Neelesh Rampal and meteorologists Ben Noll and Tristan Meyers.
The aim is to provide daily drought forecasts out to 35 days. Later, the project will also explore drought predictions up to six months ahead.
NIWA currently provides seasonal climate outlooks each month, that forecast three months ahead, but are not drought specific.
Noll provides MPI with regular briefings about drought risk across Aotearoa New Zealand, including presenting content from NIWA35 in development. This enables MPI to give feedback in near real time as the project progresses.
NIWA has provided Aotearoa New Zealand with seasonal rainfall predictions since 1999, when it first started publishing Seasonal Climate Outlooks. In 2017 NIWA and MPI launched the NZ Drought Index (NZDI), an observational tool which measures the current state of dryness and drought.
“In contrast, the new approach will include daily updates at a much higher resolution, allowing for district-level indications of dryness and drought,” Noll said.
How far along is the project? Well, NIWA’s deep learning rainfall model has been running since March 2021.
Models for soil moisture and potential evapotranspiration are in development. A novel aspect of the work still to be figured out is how to combine the outputs of the different models to create an actual prediction of drought that is consistent with the NZDI.
Recently, 53 terabytes of historical model data from 2000-2019 were downloaded – this will be used to validate the new tool on past drought events. That’s enough data to fill over 200 standard laptops.
Next steps will include sharing a version of the NZDI forecast for testing by user groups in summer 2022/23. The final product is expected to be made available by summer 2023/24.
MPI’s director of Rural Communities and Farming Support Nick Story said having access to a tool that draws on the best available science each day to provide advance warning of future dry spells will make a big difference to farmers planning and decision making.
“This will not only contribute to the bottom line, but also to their own wellbeing and animal welfare.
“This is part of MPI’s investment to help strengthen the resilience, connectedness and wellbeing of communities.
“We are undertaking significant work to support farmers, growers and whenua Māori owners to adapt to change.”