Institute for Climate & Atmospheric Science Spring 2021 Seminar Series

“Caribbean Weather Prediction Challenges and Opportunities”

Speaker: Arlene Laing, Coordinating Director - Caribbean Meteorological Organization (

Title: “Caribbean Weather Prediction Challenges and Opportunities”

Abstract: Tropical cyclones are the most dangerous weather systems in the Caribbean, thus tremendous effort is focused on their forecasting (both track and intensity), variability of their activity on seasonal and decadal time scales, and potential multiple hazards. However, various outstanding tropical cyclone research challenges remain, including the prediction of rapid intensification, the impact of a changing climate, and variability on sub-seasonal scales.  Attention is also warranted for other types of extreme weather, which can be deadly, destructive, and occur at any time of year. Heavy rainfall, strong winds, rough seas, and occasionally, hail, and funnel-clouds occur with systems, such as cold fronts, upper-level troughs, and trade wind surges. The region is also subject to Saharan dust outbreaks that affect air quality and health and sargassum blooms that can render beaches unusable.

Convection-permitting models are routinely used in the mid-latitudes to forecast extreme weather but their use in the tropics lags and needs to be optimized.  Research is needed to determine how to configure and verify those models for regions like the Caribbean, with its small islands and wide data-sparse oceanic spaces.  The data gaps represent opportunities for exploiting new types of remote sensing data and developing low-cost instruments to supplement the existing observation network. Monitoring and predicting of sub-seasonal tropical circulations and features are also necessary, as they influence the intensity, frequency, location, and movement of organized convective weather systems that produce extreme weather. For example, knowledge of the geographic and temporal clustering of tropical cyclones could help with regional and international resource mobilization.

For research knowledge to be transitioned into operations and contribute to the value chain of early warnings for extreme weather in the Caribbean, interactive dialogue among researchers, forecasters, disaster risk management, and other stakeholders is vital.  For the Caribbean, various initiatives are promoting such interaction, including the Caribbean Weather Forecasting Initiative, a collaboration of the University of Leeds and the CMO.  This initiative has been fostering interactions and knowledge-exchange among researchers and Caribbean forecasters through workshops and a forecast testbed in support of the EUREC4A field campaign.

Additionally, the value of a forecast relies on its use in an efficient decision-making process, thus, the National Meteorological and Hydrological Services have been shifting to impact-based forecasting and more interactive partnership with disaster risk management, the media, and other partners.  The application of social and behavioural science research to the effective communication of the forecast and the impacts of the expected weather is crucial for soliciting pertinent actions.

Bio: Dr Arlene Laing is the Coordinating Director of the Caribbean Meteorological Organization (CMO) Headquarters Unit, and the Permanent Representative of the British Caribbean Territories with the WMO. CMO is a specialized agency of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) that coordinates the joint scientific and technical activities in weather, climate and water - related sciences in 16 English-speaking Caribbean countries. Since Dr Laing's arrival at CMO in 2018, she has been elected as a Member of the Executive Council of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and currently serves on the Research Board.

Dr Laing is known for research in areas such as, tropical meteorology; mesoscale convective systems; flash floods and mitigation; satellite meteorology; lightning and El Niño; tropical cyclone rainfall and genesis; weather, climate, and meningitis; climate and armed conflict; and volcanic ash fall modelling. She is the lead author of “Introduction to Tropical Meteorology”, a peer-reviewed online textbook used globally. She is also a co-author and Editorial Committee member of the award-winning book, “Meteorology of Tropical West Africa; The Forecasters’ handbook.

Prior to joining CMO, Dr Laing was a Scientific Analyst at the NOAA/Earth System Research Laboratory, with the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere (CIRA) in Boulder, Colorado, USA.  After obtaining her BSc (Hons) from the University of the West Indies, she was a forecaster in Jamaica, then she received a fellowship from the Organisation of American States (OAS) to pursue graduate studies in meteorology, at Pennsylvania State University. Subsequently, she was a postdoctoral fellow at CIRA, an assistant professor at the University of South Florida, a scientist at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), a project scientist with UCAR/COMET, an adjunct professor of North Carolina State University, and a project facilitator at the US National Weather Service Weather Prediction Center.

If you would like join the seminar please contact the organiser Mollie at