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Tool on top of weather response

The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research [Niwa] and the Ministry for Primary Industries [MPI] have recently developed a tool that predicts dryness and drought that will help support farmers and growers prior to extreme weather conditions.

The announcement of the new tool’s launch follows Niwa’s official confirmation of the arrival of the El Niño climate pattern last Friday.

Meanwhile, Niwa has also revealed the country had experienced its warmest September on record, with the average temperature over the month sitting at 11.9degC — 1.3degC above the 1991–2020 September average.

Niwa said the country will see sudden highs and lows in temperature over the next three months, which will involve a mix of unexpected warm spells and chilly southerlies.

The new drought forecasting tool currently uses artificial intelligence and “long-range weather modelling” to provide weekly predictions of rainfall, dryness, and a possible drought 35 days in advance, Niwa announced on Monday.

“With climate change, the leading cause of increases in drought risk is the temperature-driven increase in atmospheric water demand. This leads to drier soil conditions, water stress for vegetation, and low hydrological flows,” Niwa meteorologist Ben Noll said.

“Having this new tool on our belt will hopefully help the country be more prepared for and resilient to potential droughts, both now and in the future.”

While the new tool supplies daily weather updates and changes in climates, it also provides “long-term forecasts at a much higher spatial resolution than previously available”.

Nick Story, MPI’s rural communities and farming support director, said the new software programme will be invaluable.

“The tool has been tailored for the primary sector, and we’ve collaborated with farmers and growers over the past three years to ensure it provides worthwhile information,” Story said.

“Farmers and growers can utilise this tool to prepare in advance for drier than normal weather and the impacts this might have on production, pasture growth, and animal welfare.”

Maniototo farmer and Irrigation NZ director Emma Crutchley said that any short or long-term forecast is good.

“What we find is if we can get a more accurate medium-term forecast, then that enables us to respond rather than working off a short-term forecast where you’re making reactive decisions all the time,” Crutchley said.

“Having as much information as we can around an uncontrollable thing, which is the weather, is really helpful to resilience in the farming business.”

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