The Bureau of Reclamation, as the largest water wholesaler and the second largest producer of hydropower in the United States, benefits from skillful forecasts of future water availability. During the past eight years, every state in the Western United States has experienced droughts that have affected the economy both locally and throughout the United States through agricultural production, water supply, and energy. Researchers, water managers from local, regional, and federal agencies, and groups such as the Western States Water Council agree that improved precipitation and temperature forecast information at the sub-seasonal to seasonal (S2S) timescale is an area with significant potential benefit to water management, particularly with respect to drought. In response, and recognizing NOAA’s leadership in forecasting, Reclamation has partnered with NOAA to develop and implement a real-time S2S forecasting competition. For a year, solvers are submitting forecasts of temperature and precipitation for weeks 3&4 and 5&6 every two weeks on a 1x1 degree grid for the 17 western state domain where Reclamation operates. The competition began on April 18, 2017 and the final real-time forecast is due April 3, 2018. Forecasts are evaluated once observational data become available using spatial anomaly correlation. Scores are posted on a competition leaderboard hosted by the National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS). The leaderboard can be accessed at: https://www.drought.gov/drought/sub-seasonal-climate-forecast-rodeo. To be eligible for cash prizes – which total $800,000 – solvers must outperform two benchmark forecasts during the real-time competition as well as in a required 11-year hind-cast. To receive a prize, competitors must grant a non-exclusive license to practice their forecast technique and make it available as open source software.
At approximately one quarter complete, there are teams outperforming the benchmarks in three of the four competition categories. With prestige and monetary incentives on the line, it is hoped that the competition will spur innovation of improved S2S forecasts through novel approaches, enhancements to established models, or otherwise. Additionally, the competition aims to raise awareness on the S2S forecast need and the potential benefits- which extend beyond water management – to drought preparedness, public health, and other sectors.