With the Biden administration taking office, climate change and man-made environmental impacts are once again at the forefront of American policy. President Biden is reestablishing the country’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions, investing heavily in renewable energy and rejoining the global stage on climate policy, starting with the Paris Climate Accord. What is missing from the conversation, however, is how weather information and analytics can aid in helping mitigate risks today caused by climate change and can also reduce emissions further reducing future impacts.
Conversations around climate change typically center around such things as increasing sea and surface temperatures, as well as the rise of extreme weather events. A new United Nations report shows climate-related disasters jumped 83 percent: from 3,656 events during the 1980-1999 period to 6,681 in the past 20 years, with major increases in extreme weather events.
But we should also be discussing how using weather analytics can be part of the solution for tackling climate change. Weather is the fuel of the future. Look at supply chain logistics, as an example. Supply chains account for 80 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in most consumer goods categories; insight from weather information can help minimize those emissions.
Americans spread more than 48 billion pounds of salt on roadways to keep roads and motorists safe during winter weather. Growing evidence shows that the chemicals contaminate drinking water and harm the environment. Road pavement forecasting, which uses a combination of high-resolution forecasts, road sensors and environmental assessment of temperature influences on road sections, can reduce unnecessary treatment. Instead of treating an entire roadway, road maintenance crews can choose to treat selected locations along a road where there are cold-spot road sections, or they may decide whether treatment is necessary at all. Using this method, the Maryland Department of Transportation has used 53 percent less salt over the past five seasons.
Weather analytics can also help reduce emissions in the aviation sector. Historically, routing decisions have been made using worst-case weather scenarios which are more operationally restrictive. Advanced forecasting capabilities offer more accurate, detailed, and specific data for flight management. Having near-pinpoint accuracy in detecting dangerous weather conditions, such as clear air turbulence, allows pilots to make smaller, calculated shifts in their route rather than having to fly hundreds of miles out of their way to avoid a speculated event, saving not just time, but fuel as well.
Specific weather insights for long-range route planning, as well as for real-time tactical flight management, may mean the difference between not loading extra fuel as a precaution for alternative landing options, or circling an airport before eventually landing, ultimately contributing to a reduction of greenhouse emissions.
The shipping industry is among the leading producers of sulfur emissions worldwide. Burning bunker fuel accounts for almost 90 percent of global sulfur emissions and the 15 largest ships in the world produce more sulfur each year than all cars put together. In 2020 the International Maritime Organization introduced new regulations to combat the impact of sulfur emissions by enacting a worldwide 0.5 percent sulfur emission cap. New equipment and alternative fuels will aid in this directive, as does weather analytics. Studies show that weather-optimized routing can reduce emissions up to 4 percent and reduce fuel consumption up to 10 percent, depending on the type of vessel, the season, and the conditions. Route-planning is established prior to voyage but is an ongoing dynamic process. If there is bad weather ahead, sophisticated algorithms that utilize information about the ship and its capabilities and the weather effects on that specific ship can make numerous calculations and provide one or more alternatives for the mariner to optimize a route.
These climate change solutions are global solutions, not specific or confined to a region. In today’s connected world we monitor global weather patterns and model for localized impact. We have weather observations on the ground, in the sky with weather balloons, drones and airplanes, and above the earth with satellites. The Internet of Things (IoT) provides additional weather data, such as sensors in cars and marine buoys and sensors on turbines in wind farms. This robust data, combined with the confluence of ongoing weather and climate research and advanced weather models and technology, makes it possible to improve supply chain’ impacts on the environment.
As President Biden and his administration act to address climate change and environmental impact, it’s a must that they bring the science of weather to the table: not just in the context of response and mitigation to extreme weather events, but also in how we can utilize our existing depth of expertise and application of weather analytics to reduce impact on the environment.
Image credit: Ashim D’Silva/Unsplash
Renny Vandewege is the Vice President of Weather Operations at DTN, where he is responsible for more than 200 operational meteorologists across weather forecast rooms globally. Prior to joining the private weather industry, Renny served as the Director of the Broadcast Meteorology Program at Mississippi State University, advising and training more than 200 broadcast meteorologists in his time teaching in the program.