Interview with Andy Wood — S2S Climate Outlooks for Watersheds

From Water Deeply (Matt Weiser):

Understanding watersheds is vital to tracking environmental conditions and water availability. Now there’s a web-based tool that offers temperature and precipitation forecasts at the watershed level, says scientist Andy Wood.

ANYONE WHO TRACKS the weather closely soon becomes aware of a surprising fact: it’s not easy to get a forecast tailored to your local watershed – perhaps the most important natural terrain feature that determines water supply, water quality and flood risk.

In the United States, most weather forecasts pay no attention to watersheds. Instead, predictions are made within broad “climate divisions” that do not necessarily recognize the finer scale of watersheds. The National Weather Service (NWS) does have a network of river forecast centers, mainly to provide vital streamflow predictions. These are mostly aimed at a technical audience and do not break out information by watershed.

Now there is a new tool to fill this forecast gap. A partnership between the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the University of Colorado Boulder has produced a forecasting website that offers real-time weather prediction maps based on watershed boundaries across the nation.

Not only is the new system watershed-based but it also offers temperature and precipitation forecasts up to a month ahead. That is well beyond conventional forecasts offered by the NWS.

Known as S2S Climate Outlooks for Watersheds, the system is still considered a prototype. But it has already begun to fill an important need by applying weather and climate data to watersheds. Water Deeply recently spoke to Andy Wood, a project scientist at the NCAR and co-leader of the project, who explained how the system was developed and how it can be used.

Wood emphasized he is eager to hear feedback from users (via this form) about how to improve this new tool.

Photo credit UCAR/NCAR

Water Deeply: Why did you want to bring forecasting to the watershed level?

Andy Wood: This is something I’ve been interested in doing for a while. I used to work for NOAA [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] in two different river forecast centers: in Salt Lake City for the Colorado Basin, the other in Portland for the Northwest region. As somebody who looked at climate forecasts in that context, it always struck me that it would be nice to have it communicated on a spatial basis, but connected a little more strongly with the kind of modeling and analysis that we would do for river forecasting. And one major basis for that is watersheds and watershed scale.

For instance, if you manage water in the Yakima Basin [in Washington state], you would be able to find information that’s kind of tailored to that watershed. So it’s a pretty simple concept, in a way.

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