The world’s most advanced simulation of extreme weather on a warming Earth completed its first run last Friday – though the data won’t be fully digested into human-readable format until spring. Yesterday I talked to meteorologist Greg Holland, co-leader of the study, at the Willis insurance company’s London office – whose cycle racks, I can report, are tucked away discreetly across the street from its intimidatingly curved and purple-lit lobby.
Willis’s research arm funded the work, along with the offshore oil industry, the US Department of Energy and the US National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), where Holland is based. They all want to know how climate change will alter hurricane patterns in the Atlantic. At the request of several US state governors, the project is also looking at rainfall over the Rockies and winds in the Great Plains. Says Holland:
I’m not going to forecast a squall line through New York in 2050. But what we want to do is be able to say: “What are the statistics of squall lines going through New York in 2050?” or “What are the statistics of hurricanes coming into Miami in 2050?”
To find that out, Holland’s team has embedded global climate models with detailed weather forecasting simulations at key regions. He says more about the research in an interview online at Nature News. But worth noting here is its emphasis on cranking out results immediately useful to government and industry – something that I, at least, hear talked about more than I see it done. Projections hot off the supercomputer will be passed to policymakers, insurers and drillers, so they can start to work with the most relevant results while peer reviewers are still looking them over. Holland explains:
We’ll be publishing papers all along the way — that’s what gives the program credibility. But what’s in a published paper is not exactly what you, if you’re the governor of Florida, need. You need specific information, and we can start providing that.