The NMME’s Seasonal Outlook for Iowa

It may or may not have been Mark Twain who originally said, “Climate is what you expect. Weather is what you get.” Climate and weather are related, but definitely not the same.

Climate scientists at the Iowa Flood Center (IFC) are using models to develop a seasonal outlook for Iowa. At a recent Iowa Flood Center (IFC) meeting, IIHR assistant research scientist Wei Zhang presented the outlook for precipitation and surface air temperature in Iowa during the period of April through July.

Zhang and Gabriele Villarini, a professor of civil and environmental engineering, collaborated to develop the outlook using the North American Multi-Model Ensemble (NMME). The NMME is an experimental, multi-model, seasonal forecasting system consisting of coupled climate models from U.S. modeling centers including:

  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
  • National Center for Environmental Prediction (NCEP)
  • Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL)
  • International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI)
  • National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)
  • NASA

Zhang reported that precipitation will be near average during the next four months, although this does not completely rule out the possibility of flooding. The NMME also showed that the surface temperature in Iowa will be approximately two degrees warmer on average during these months compared to the average temperature of those months from 1981-2010.

Wei Zhang presenting at the IIHR meeting on March 29.

The Climate Prediction Center created the NMME, and the system is currently available for public use and download. The NMME brings together nine climate models and uses the ensemble average to create its forecasts.

“Using input from all of these models makes the NMME’s forecasts very reliable,” says Zhang. “It’s a very useful system and it’s capable of making global forecasts as well.”

Zhang, originally from a village in China’s Hunan province, received a Ph.D. from The Chinese University of Hong Kong in 2011, where he also did post-doctoral work until 2013. After a two-year appointment as an associate research scholar at Princeton University and NOAA/GFDL, Zhang arrived at the University of Iowa in July 2016 to assume his current position. His research focuses on climate modeling and hurricanes, which he notes are called typhoons in China.