As extreme weather devastates communities worldwide, scientists are using modeling and simulation to understand how climate change impacts the frequency and intensity of these events. Although long-term climate projections and models are important, they are less helpful for short-term prediction of extreme weather that may rapidly displace thousands of people or require emergency aid. 

An area of climate research known as subseasonal to seasonal prediction fills the gap between the usual daily or weekly weather forecasts and long-term climate projections to provide essential information to help prepare the nation’s mission-critical infrastructure and vulnerable communities worldwide.

Moetasim Ashfaq, a computational climatologist in the Computational Earth Sciences group at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, has studied the Earth’s climate for over 15 years. He began his career as a climate modeler exclusively focused on climate change and its impact 20 to 50 years in the future, but he has recently shifted his focus to analyzing shorter subseasonal to seasonal timescales in which natural climate variability and its global teleconnections — the relationships of distant weather events — are critical to shaping our current climate. 

Subseasonal to seasonal predictions rely on the influences exerted by natural forcings, such as ocean temperatures and polar and subtropical jet streams, and how their variations will affect weather in particular regions in the next several weeks to months. Accurately predicting subseasonal weather conditions can help communities better prepare for emergency response in the event of strong storms or unprecedented flooding.

“If we have a subseasonal understanding of processes shaping the Earth’s climate, then we can respond to extreme climate events much better than we have in the past,” said Ashfaq.