Forecasting the Future

ECMWF

At a glance

These simple, beautiful visualizations reveal the predictive power of the world’s most accurate weather forecasting system.

Illustration of natural factors that are used to predict the weather.

Predictive power

Weather shapes our lives. It can be both a force for good as well as powerfully destructive. So when we can predict it, we have the knowledge to adjust to what’s coming.

For 40 years, the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) has given us this knowledge. It provides the world’s most accurate weather predictions – yet few people realise how this is achieved.

 

Illustration of observations used to predict weather.

Shedding light

ECMWF asked us to visualize how its unique forecasting system works. And how the weather isn’t the only thing it helps us foresee.

To do this, we created four explainers that each reveal a fascinating glimpse into ECMWF’s astonishing ability to predict our planet’s ever-changing weather.  

These needed to work at any scale, from a smartphone to a presentation screen.

 

Hand-drawn sketches of clouds, wind and water.
Hand-drawn sketch of weather events.

Look closer

We can’t observe the future. But we can predict it by observing the past and the present. And every single day, 600 million observations of the Earth’s atmosphere arrive at ECMWF. 

To illustrate this, we created a snapshot of the natural world,  one brimming with examples of the weather signals that ECMWF absorbs: from precipitation to evaporation, solar radiation to soil moisture, from aerosols to turbulence.

Illustration of sectors that benefit from weather predictions.

Life drawing

We chose an illustration style that was easy for the eye to explore, but also allowed us to fill the scene with finer scientific detail.

These visual stories were carefully designed to work as static images. But we also used subtle, beautiful animation to breathe extra life into them. 

As we explain why ECMWF’s predictions hold massive value for numerous different sectors, simple touches such as sea ice gently rocking on the waves helped to highlight the environmental forces at work.

 

Illustration of how weather events can be predicted

Virtual world

To generate the world’s most accurate forecasts, ECMWF feeds millions of these daily observations into a virtual-reality Earth.

Within this complex computer model, every single variable interacts with each other to create a living simulation of Earth’s weather and atmosphere.

We showed simple visual examples of this in action. Cold and warm air over the Carribean creates a tornado. A hurricane over the Atlantic ocean impacts the weather in Europe a few days later.

Six illustrations of environmental factors that can be predicted

Deeper insights

Thanks to this uniquely accurate simulation of the real world, ECMWF can also forecast CO2 measures, air quality and other vital environmental developments. 

Within our illustrative visualization of the world, we showed how drought and dry winds can help assess the risk of wildfires like those that devastated California in 2018. And how rain and soil moisture can help predict floods.

Illustration of how weather is predicted.

Full exposure

This suite of visualizations was launched at the AGU centennial conference in San Francisco, the largest international Earth and space science meeting in the world. 

Both on the big screen and social media, they helped leading scientists and members of the public gain a new appreciation and understanding of ECMWF’s innovative, world-changing work.

 

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