Improving the Nation’s Climate Forecast System

The Central Plains drought of 2012 evolved over multiple years and continued into 2013, covering as much land area as the Dust Bowl and devastating the nation’s corn crop. Preparation can lessen the impact of such hydrologic extremes, and one key to better preparation is improved forecasts. Research Associate Craig Ferguson is working on ways to enhance operational forecast models.

climate forecast system
Research Associate Craig Ferguson is working on ways to enhance operational forecast models.

Ferguson, who joined the Atmospheric Sciences Research Center (ASRC) in 2013, uses satellites to explore the role of surface variations in soil moisture and vegetation on weather and short-term climate. Just as sea surface temperature anomalies are known to be predictive of weather and climate patterns, variations on land can lend predictability to daily temperature, precipitation and seasonal extremes, such as droughts. Existing weather and climate models, however, do not agree on the strength of the land’s role.

Ferguson pioneered a research approach using microwave and infrared sensors on NASA’s Aqua satellite that, for the first time ever, resolved which models correctly represented regional land-atmospheric coupling and feedbacks. At ASRC, Ferguson is building a team to collaborate on improving sub-seasonal to seasonal forecast skills through incorporating these satellite-observed tendencies. For his initial work in this area, he was awarded the 2014 National Space Club NOAA David Johnson Award.