A Q&A with Zack Guido, co-creator of the Monsoon Fantasy Forecast game
Last summer, a group of University of Arizona researchers debuted the Monsoon Fantasy Forecast game, which invited the people of the Southwest to take bets on the rainfall totals for each month throughout the monsoon, which runs from June 15 through Sept. 30.
Outguessing the nearly 300 people who participated, and thus taking first place, was a University employee and recent Michigan transplant who had been in Tucson for less than four months by the end of the season.
This year, the rules of the game are very similar, except that players can submit their monthly rainfall estimates up until one day before the new month begins. For example, participants can place their bets for July until the end of the day on June 29. First, second and third place will win a $400, $300 and $200 Amazon gift card, respectively.
To learn more about the people behind the game and the inspiration for it, Lo Que Pasa interviewed one of the game's creators, Zack Guido, an assistant research professor at the Arizona Institutes for Resilience: Solutions for Environment and Societies and the School of Natural Resources and Environment. Guido also leads the AIRES International Resilience Research for Development initiative.
What is your area of research?
I'm interested in how people deal with climate variability and climate change with a particular focus on how information about the environment informs responses. Much of my research has focused on small holder farmers in foreign countries like those in the Caribbean and Africa, but I've also worked with decision-makers and emergency managers, like FEMA, in the southwestern United States. I'm naturally attracted to projects that work with stakeholders and where the results are embedded in people's lives rather than theory.
Can you talk about Monsoon Fantasy Forecast and why you created it? What inspired you?
My colleague Michael Crimmins and I host a podcast, the "Southwest Climate Podcast," that Ben McMahan (also with AIRES) produces. It's a product of our work with the Climate Assessment for the Southwest program. Every July, on the podcast, we shared our predictions for the monsoon that month. It became a segment we'd play in the podcast. So, then we thought, why don't we open this up to other people? It's like fantasy sports and people love that. We want to try and bring more people into thinking about the climate, and we want to do it in a positive way so that we're not just talking about how extreme events bring destruction and climate change. Climate is often seen as the villain, but people generally love the monsoon. It has a set of hazards and those are really serious, but I think there's just a general sense of happiness around the monsoon. The game was a way to bring new people, who maybe aren't weather nerds or climate experts, into the mix. We were just offering the game as a public service and trying to get people enthusiastic about weather and the environment, and research has shown that games are a good way to spur interest.
Can you tell us more about the CLIMAS podcast and your goal for it?
We're aiming to make climate science accessible with this podcast. We try to translate what we know about the intricacies about the climate to our listeners. My co-host, Michael Crimmins, and I used to struggle with how to communicate complicated climate science in words. We decided to try making a podcast, and that gave us a long-form platform to go back and forth, struggle with concepts, and it was actually quite enjoyable to do. We think we have a pretty niche but dedicated following. We joke that it's the only and longest running podcast on the climate of the Southwest. Our number of listeners really picks up during the monsoon, probably because there's always so much to talk about. Really, for us, we use the podcast as therapy during bad monsoons, and last year when it was a fantastic monsoon, we asked ourselves if we should do this every week.
Why is climate in the Southwest an interesting and important topic?
This region has a unique climate. The monsoon is the central feature. We live in a desert, and we have this phenomenon that brings these amazing storms at the height of our hot season, that frankly has a profound impact on people and the environment. It saturates the soils, which feeds back into wintertime snowfall and makes wintertime runoff more efficient; it puts an end to the fire season. Then I would also say that we live in a really hot and arid environment to begin with and consequently we have quite a bit of climate hazards from heat waves to flash floods to forest fires, occasional deep freezes, drought, and we even receive remnants of tropical storms or decaying hurricanes in the late fall. It's an active climate area that's not boring at all.
You're also a photographer. How did you get into it? Why do you do it, and what kinds of photos do you take?
I got into photography about 10 years ago. I've always liked being outdoors, and I got my master's degree in geology to keep me exploring new environments. I also rock climb. But as my family life and professional career evolved, photography served as a way to keep me outdoors. What I like about photography most is that it forces me to slow down and pay attention to the environments I am in. When I have the camera with me, I stop thinking about work and the like and just look at the world through the lens searching for something that is interesting, like a morning rain on a flower or the waning sun peering through saguaro cactus ribs. I look at the light and cool patterns, and it's been a driver to explore new areas. I take photos of everything, but what's most attractive to me is patterns in nature – light reflecting off the veins of a leaf, or sky patterns. There's nothing more incredible than the clouds and colors of the monsoon, it's my favorite thing to shoot. But over the last two years, my albums are dominated by photos of my 2-year-old son.