The International Antarctic Weather Forecasting Handbook



Although weather forecasts have been issued for various parts of the Antarctic since the early expeditions, there has not been a great deal of international cooperation regarding the transfer of knowledge about forecasting techniques. A number of nations have produced forecasting handbooks for their areas of operation but these have often not been widely disseminated. To try and aid the exchange of information on forecasting, the First International Symposium on Operational Weather Forecasting in the Antarctic was held in Hobart in 1998. One of the major outcomes of the meeting was the decision to prepare the International Antarctic Weather Forecasting Handbook, which was seen as a good way of providing a reference volume of material on forecasting methods used in the Antarctic.

The handbook has been prepared under the auspices of a number of organisations, including the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR), the World Meteorological Organization (WMO, the International Commission on Polar Meteorology and the Council of Managers of National Antarctic Programs (COMNAP). The editors of the handbook are Dr. John Turner, British Antarctic Survey and Steve Pendlebury, Australian Bureau of Meteorology: their work was made possible by the 59 direct contributors (forecasters and research scientists) to the handbook from 15 different nations. The work of each contributor is referenced in Appendix 5 of the handbook: needless to say these people were responsible for its development and preparation and for giving the handbook such a comprehensive coverage of forecasting methods used in the Antarctic. The contributors came from the following 15 countries, highlighting the truly international effort involved:

  • Argentina;
  • Australia;
  • Belgium;
  • China;
  • Chile;
  • France;
  • Germany;
  • India;
  • Italy;
  • Japan;
  • Russia;
  • South Africa;
  • Ukraine;
  • United Kingdom
  • United States of America (USA).

The handbook basically splits into two parts. The first presents an overview of the meteorology and climatology of the Antarctic aimed at the forecaster who are new to working on the continent. Many forecasters who arrive at Antarctic research stations have no previous experience of forecasting on the continent and many come from the Northern Hemisphere, so making it even more difficult for them to adjust to the analysis and forecasting tasks that they will have to carry out. Although the majority of the forecasters will have had some training in Antarctic forecasting methods prior to travelling South this section of the handbook should be a useful introduction to the meteorological conditions experienced across the continent. In addition, in Appendix 4 there is a suggested training programme for Antarctic weather forecasters that presents a more structured introduction to analysis and prediction techniques for those who are required to prepare training modules. This first part of the handbook consists of material on the follows:

The physical environment of the Antarctic. Dealing with the orographic conditions across the continent, the oceanic environment and the role of the Antarctic in the global climate system. Also considered is the nature and role of synoptic and mesoscale weather systems, and recent changes observed in the Antarctic. A set of mean meteorological fields are presented, which complement the tables of climatological data included in Appendix 2.

The forecasting requirement. In this section the needs of aviation and those operating ships in the Antarctic is examined, along with the requirements for field parties.

Data availability and characteristics. The lack of in-situ data is one of the main problems facing forecasters in the Antarctic so it is essential to maximise the use of the data that are available. However, many observations, such as the surface wind measurements, only reflect local conditions, and not the synoptic-scale flow. This section considers the value and error characteristics of each form of data available and provides recent maps of the locations of the staffed stations and the automatic weather stations. The value of the model analyses and forecasts are also considered.

Analysis techniques. The Antarctic is one of the few areas of the world where hand-drawn analyses are still prepared, since the numerical analyses fail to represent the many important mesoscale weather systems and flow characteristics that are so important for forecasting at high southern latitudes. In this section information is provided on the preparation of surface and upper air analyses, and on some of the non-standard charts that are prepared, such as streamline analyses.

The Forecasting process. Here there are details of the means used to forecast the full range of weather systems from long waves to mesoscale lows. All the important elements that have to be predicted are then considered, including surface and upper winds, cloud, visibility and fog, surface contrast, horizontal definition, precipitation, temperature, wind chill, aircraft icing, turbulence, sea ice, waves, swell and hydraulic jumps.

The second part of the handbook is concerned with the forecasting techniques used for particular sectors on the continent and on the various stations. For each location we provide information on topography and the local environment, operational requirements and activities relevant to the forecasting process, data sources and services provided and then deal with important weather phenomena and forecasting techniques used at the location. We cover prediction of surface wind and the pressure field, upper wind, temperature and humidity, clouds, visibility and fog, horizontal definition, precipitation, temperature and chill factor, icing, turbulence, hydraulic jumps, sea ice and wind waves and swell.

The editors are aware that the handbook could be improved in a number of ways, for example by the inclusion of more material on some stations: and there are sure to still be a few minor errors in the extensive text. The editors welcome any comments that users of the handbook have on its content or structure and would be particularly grateful for any material that can be provided on areas or stations that are not dealt with in depth in the current version. It is planned that a portable document file (PDF) version (see below) be updated before the Austral each year, at least up until the International Polar Year planned for 2007-08.

The latest version (4.0) consists of around 685 pages of information held in a single portable document file (PDF) file of 26 MB in size. The PDF format was chosen since viewers for most platforms are available free of charge from Adobe. The file can be obtained from several sources:

Last updated on 21 June 2004