Are your good morning often accompanied by the questions what is the weather going to be today or how will the weekend be?
Those are questions that are repeated a lot in the family environment and among the neighbors that you cross in the elevator … Above all, at the time when you have to plan a few days of rest like the ones now at Easter or a bridge.
And how do you react?
Well, in a somewhat different way, or at least more abbreviated, the instant I make a weather forecast to a journalist, but I do always try to advance in terms of short-term probabilities and that allows for more certainty and security when it comes to getting closer to one model or another … As we move further back in time and widen the range of days, all this becomes science fiction. In recent years there have been many improvements when it comes to analyzing meteorological models, but it is clear that we are operating in a scenario of probabilities.
That is to say, that the “weather man” is also wrong?
Of course we can be wrong … Considering that we are trying to decipher the behavior of the atmosphere, which is a chaotic system, the chances of making a mistake are real. Chaos Theory is connected to this unpredictable reality. What is the right thing to do? Talk in terms of probability of what the models tell us.
What are your assets?
The main tool are the numerical prediction models and these always have to be analyzed by specialists: you don’t have to read what a model says, but rather analyze and interpret its content. Each of them has its characteristics, to put it one way, and the forecaster must know how to identify all the details of the area that is subjected to these studies. If now they send me to make predictions in Madrid or another community, the first thing I should know well are the models that occur in those geographical areas, that is, their local peculiarities. Experience increases knowledge and that is one of the reasons why prediction teams are so stable.
“The atmosphere is somewhat unpredictable; every day brings you surprises and you can never trust yourself “
You have to see how the meteorological information has evolved from the times of Paco Montesdeoca’s newscast to those virtual scenarios that currently sneak into the living room … Is that block already more relevant than that of the Stock Market?
Improvements in weather information or meteorological predictions are linked to advances in the computing and informatics segment because supercomputers are needed to study these numerical prediction models. Regarding visualization, it is evident that the improvements that television networks have introduced are not accidental, but are due to a demand for information that is vital in our day-to-day life … This is a more dynamic scenario in which there are fewer and fewer texts and visual effects are increasing.
You have just made a reference to the incidence of new technologies, but how do they condition meteorological information?
Advances in computing have improved prediction models, but I don’t think I will see a day when machines do that job without the supervision of a human with a background in meteorology …
Machines still not an enemy?
They are a basic help, but for the moment we must trust the good judgment of the predictors … It is true that everything that involves artificial intelligence leads us to a new era and that this is going very fast, but not fast enough as to rule out human intervention.
You have to see those improvements as a complement, right?
In the Canary Islands we have some applications that are decisive when it comes to making a raw interpretation of our meteorological models because they already incorporate the algorithms and artificial intelligence that we have just talked about … The more information we handle -and with her the levels of precision–, the closer we will be to performing a correct analysis of a given model.
Are the models studied in the Islands more complex due to being an insular terrain, close to a continent and affected by the Atlantic Ocean?
At the software level, the situation is identical to what is occurring in other parts of the world because we use the best numerical prediction model, but that is not something that I say but it is argued with the results obtained in a high meteorology centers . Each model must be subjected to a series of validations or verifications that provide scores that have a universal interpretation of the meteorological phenomena, but that must then be adapted to each area. In Spain we are operating with the model from the European Center, with a resolution of nine kilometers and 27 levels in the vertical, but the Aemet also works with one of regional origin and with a resolution of about two and a half kilometers.
How is the information you have just provided translated so that it can be understood by the majority of citizens?
The Canary Islands are located in a mid-latitude environment, right in the subtropics, and are permanently affected by air masses that are of extratropical, tropical or African origin, that is, we are in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and are conditioned by leaks. notable of a different nature. In addition, we have to take into account the complicity of residing in a small piece of land, if we compare it with other continental areas, and surrounded by the sea. To all this we must add a fairly diverse orography, which is what ultimately causes different climates to occur on the same island. That complicates any prediction much more. The number models that we are used to seeing work much better in mid-latitudes, in the interior of the European continent, because the models need observations; they have to continually “feed” on data that greatly improves a prediction. In the tropical region there is more ocean and the close presence of the African continent in which there are regions in which there are not so many references for observation. For that reason, which seems quite simple, the models work better in Central Europe than in the vicinity of this Archipelago.
“We do not live oblivious to the memes that are created over time, but there are more successes than mistakes”
Why did you become a meteorologist?
I studied Marine Sciences at the University of Las Palmas and although meteorology always caught my attention, the only thing that was clear to me was that I wanted to dedicate myself to the world of science. Many of my colleagues were more motivated by the Biology part, but I was interested in Physics. When I was doing my doctorate in Oceanography, what used to be called the Advanced Studies Diploma, a competition-competition came out for some interim positions at Aemet and I applied. I do not know if it had something to do with the fact that there was not too much money to finance research in the Canary Islands, but the truth is that I applied to the call of the State Meteorological Agency … I entered as an interim at the end of 2008, beginning of 2009 , and I parked the doctorate in the first cycle. I was at Aemet for two years until my contract ran out and then I prepared for the competitive exams to the Higher Corps of State Meteorologists, I won one of the places and here I am still: twelve years at Aemet.
So the ‘Delta’ caught you in college?
Yes, it caught me in my university stage, although as an operational predictor I already had to live a winter with many warnings … If I remember correctly, 2010 was one of the most humid that has been recorded since the 70s. I think which was the second, but then I learned a lot. Later, in 2014, we experienced complex episodes due to several cyclones.
Speaking of cyclones, do we have to get used to living with an ever closer reality?
They are a potential threat that we cannot ignore because in recent years we have had to live with complex situations derived from the formation of these structures of tropical origin … Although the incipient seed of these hurricanes is formed in the latitude of Cape Verde, it crosses the entire Atlantic Ocean to unleash all its virulence in the Caribbean and on their return they can create some complications in the Islands. The atmosphere is somewhat unpredictable; every day brings you surprises and you can never trust yourself … You don’t have to be alarmist, but tropical structures are a threat.
What has become “our daily bread” are the haze cycles that affect the Archipelago.
In winter we had two particularly striking events, especially one in February that reduced visibility at some airports to 1,500 meters. The usual behavior of these haze processes is that it concentrates at high levels and has not limited vision, except in the case already mentioned … That is the problem of living so close to the region that moves the most dust in suspension in the world, as is the Sahara desert. Being under the influence of the great African air mass favors this type of meteorological phenomenon.
At the beginning of this interview we talked about “human error” in predictions, but leaving that possibility aside, would you be in a position to advance that it won’t take another four decades before we are engulfed by such an intense dust storm? like the one we suffered in the winter of 2020?
I would not be able … As a result of that episode we did a fairly complete study that was published as a report by the World Meteorological Organization. In the material that was disseminated at the end of last February there was a multidisciplinary content in which not only meteorologists participated, but also biologists from the Government of the Canary Islands, professionals linked to ecology and renewable energies … Since we have reliable data, no There are doubts that the episode of haze that we experienced in the Islands last year was the most severe of all those that have been recorded in an official chronology and with a scientific basis. When will we face something similar again? That is something that neither I nor anyone else is going to tell you today.
We close this meteorological circle with that moment in which the waiter who serves you a coffee or juice reminds you, “Yesterday they were wrong!”
That is something that they have asked me on occasion and the only answer I can give you is that we do not live oblivious to the memes that are created over time, but there are more successes than mistakes … In addition to all the factors that we have talked about During the interview I am going to tell you something that a colleague told me when I entered the Aemet. “David, we are like soccer referees … If you do it right, nobody says anything to you, but if you make a mistake, your sticks will rain.