Going commercial in hydrological forecasting

Contributed by Maria-Helena Ramos

wordsGC-2There are numerous actions supporting and promoting collaborations that aim to improve the uptake of weather and climate services.

  • In meteorology, national weather services have made efforts to create closer ties between forecasters and users, and discuss how it can effectively enhance the market for weather services (see some examples of publications here and here).
  • A “European research and innovation Roadmap for Climate Services” has been published early this year: “Climate services have the potential of becoming a supportive and flourishing market, where public and private operators provide a range of services and products that can better inform decision makers at all levels, from public administrations to business operators, when taking decisions for which the implications of a changing climate are an issue”.

My questions as a hydrologist are:

  • in the water sector, how equally supportive are we towards the development of national water services and the growth of associated businesses?
  • How well developed are today’s water services (from public services and private enterprises)?
  • How do they integrate outputs of hydrological forecasting systems in commercial applications?

The perfect time to go commercial

At least three aspects may be essential to find the perfect time to go commercial:

  • Basic models and tools are already developed (and paid for), and eventually require, if any, just further minor investments.
  • The forecasting process has reached a certain level of automation and the role of the forecasters is well defined in the new ‘automated context’ (here, see also the discussions in recent posts by J. Verkade and by J. Danhelka).
  • The customers are well identified and ready to pay for the services.

My questions, again, are:

  • How do we answer to these three aspects in the ‘hydrological forecasting business’?
  • Are there any other impediments or catalysts?
  • Are we ready to go commercial in hydrological forecasting?

Maybe it is time to think of challenges and opportunities we face now to enhance innovation and market update in hydrological forecasting: how do we handle (or how do we accept, if we do accept) commercial forecasting in hydrology?


  1. I suppose three other items are important (which may be a part of your “customers ready to pay”) 1. stakeholders that can make decisions based on forecasts that lead to financial benefits (increase in profits and/or reduced losses)
    2. A gap in services that are not already available for free.
    3. An economy of scale where, say, one forecast provider can have many clients served by the same forecasts/forecasting system.

    Some water sectors are clearly high value, such as hydropower and so no big surprise that most of the non-government water forecasting targets this.

    Many governments provide river forecasts as a public service. The companies would have to pay for either more accuracy or more tailoring (e.g. specific sites, leadtimes that are not already available.

    On the 3rd item, (some) weather services do better on economy of scale because weather models are run for the whole world. In contrast, hydrology models are terribly local. US Weather Service weather modellers are forecasting weather over China. No US Weather Service river modellers are forecasting over China. That is changing somewhat with things like GLOFAS and other international initiatives but generally there’s a gulf in skill between global and local models. In the absence of that then, you’d have stakeholders paying in-house services for value added but place-specific river forecasting, such as Bonneville Power (hydropower) and others.

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