Seasonal Forecasts of the Twentieth Century


Forecasts of seasonal climate anomalies using physically based global circulation models are routinely made at operational meteorological centers around the world. A crucial component of any seasonal forecast system is the set of retrospective forecasts, or hindcasts, from past years that are used to estimate skill and to calibrate the forecasts. Hindcasts are usually produced over a period of around 20–30 years. However, recent studies have demonstrated that seasonal forecast skill can undergo pronounced multidecadal variations. These results imply that relatively short hindcasts are not adequate for reliably testing seasonal forecasts and that small hindcast sample sizes can potentially lead to skill estimates that are not robust. Here we present new and unprecedented 110-year-long coupled hindcasts of the next season over the period 1901–2010. Their performance for the recent period is in good agreement with those of operational forecast models. While skill for ENSO is very high during recent decades, it is markedly reduced during the 1930s–1950s. Skill at the beginning of the twentieth century is, however, as high as for recent high-skill periods. Consistent with findings in atmosphere-only hindcasts, a midcentury drop in forecast skill is found for a range of atmospheric fields, including large-scale indices such as the NAO and the PNA patterns. As with ENSO, skill scores for these indices recover in the early twentieth century, suggesting that the midcentury drop in skill is not due to a lack of good observational data. A public dissemination platform for our hindcast data is available, and we invite the scientific community to explore them.

Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society