Climate Services and the role of State Climate Offices

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Thursday, 21 January 2010: 11:45 AM
B212 (GWCC)
Nolan J. Doesken, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO

Following the termination of the Federal "State Climatologist" program in the early 1970s, states across the U.S. gradually developed replacement programs. The majority of the "new" generation of state-funded state climate offices were located at state universities and often were academically focused. There were years in the late 1970s and 19890s when "service" was a bad word and had to be whispered, since most emphasis in science was perceived to be best spent on pure research. Less than ten offices across the country ended up within state government in either agricultural, water resource or natural resource departments. Over the past 35 years, many changes have taken place in state-level climate services. The Colorado Climate Center may not typify all offices, but is representative of the type of services provided. Emphasis has and continues to be placed on 1) climate monitoring, 2) applied research, 3) answering requests for climate data, information and interpretation, 4) teaching and mentoring students and future climatologists and 5) climate outreach. Originally, climate monitoring meant assembling data mostly from the National Weather Service weeks after the end of each month to map and document temperature and precipitation patterns and anomoalies. But gradually over the past 30 years, more and more climate offices have become directly or partially involved in establishing and maintaining their own state-based observing network to fill gaps in federal networks and provide more timely and more complete data including other elements such as humidity, solar radiation, soil moisture and soil temperatures. Quality, timely and historically consistent data are the lifeblood of effective climate services. Monitoring and data collection thus continues to be a top priority in most state climate offices. The evolution of answering requests for climate information has been fascinating. The traditional phone and letter requests from individuals, businesses, educators, agencies and institutions continues to decline and the majority of information exchange is via the internet. The effectiveness of climate services has increasingly become tied to web development, database structures, and user interfaces. An unintentional outcome of this transition is that the responsibility for data screening and interpretation has been transferred more and more to the users -- and not always with the ideal outcome. Public, commercial and governmental interest in climate change has elevated climate interest and climate services to a whole new level. Local climate data and expertise is now only part of what is needed. A global perspective is now needed even for local climate services. With very limited resources at the state level and huge demands for past, present and future climate information, effective services can only be delivered through partnering and sharing responsibilities among federal, regional, state and local efforts.