African communities benefit from severe weather forecasting project
An acclaimed WMO project to strengthen the capacity of meteorological services in developing countries to forecast hazardous weather is being rolled out in Southern and Eastern Africa, where it is making a significant contribution to disaster risk reduction and sustainable development.
The Severe Weather Forecasting Demonstration Project has improved the lead-time and reliability for alerts about high-impact events such as heavy rain, severe winds and high waves, thus helping to save lives and property and supporting vital sectors like farming and fishing.
The project shares the expertise and sophisticated forecast and training products of top-level global centres with national public weather services in participating developing countries. It was piloted in 2007 in Southern Africa and now embraces 16 countries in the region, and was introduced in six Eastern African nations in September 2011.
East Africa Community (EAC) heads of National Meteorological Services joined a meeting in Arusha, Tanzania, 27-31 May to discuss achievements and challenges and provide direction on future implementation. This will inform the EAC five-year Meteorological Development Plan and Investment Strategy.
“The benefit of the Severe Weather Forecasting Demonstration Project is vivid in all participating countries. We have all seen the great improvement in the weather forecasts,” said Agnes Kijazi, Director-General of the Tanzania Meteorological Agency. “In Tanzania during the March to May rainy season we were able to alert the nation of all expected severe weather events in good time.”
Tanzania plans to introduce mobile phone weather alerts in Mwanza district, near Lake Victoria, aimed at fishermen and farmers. This follows successful pilot projects led by WMO in Uganda.
The region around Lake Victoria has many complex weather systems. It has one of the highest frequencies of thunderstorms and lightning in the world – more than 200 days per year in Ugandan cities such as Kampala and Entebbe for instance. Casualties from lightning are a growing problem in Rwanda.
The Eastern African region as a whole – Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda – is exposed to heavy rains which cause floods and landslides, drought and food insecurity, strong winds, and high waves on the Indian Ocean coast and on Lake Victoria. Some parts of the region - for instance important tea-growing areas of Kenya _ have a high incidence of hailstorms.
During the recent March-May rainy season, there were heavy rains and widespread flooding in Kenya. The meteorological department was able to provide regular and reliable 5-day severe weather forecasts to a government disaster management committee as a result of the WMO project. ”Such information allows you to talk to policymakers with a lot of confidence,” said Kenya Meteorological Department Director Joseph Mukabana. “It builds confidence in the meteorological services and enhances their visibility.”
Countries participating in the project benefit from advances in the science of weather forecasting, especially the dramatic development in numerical weather prediction (NWP) systems, including ensemble prediction systems (EPS) which give guidance to weather forecasters in advance of potential hazardous weather conditions.
The project uses a “Cascading Forecasting Process” (global to regional, to national).
- Global NWP Centres provide available NWP and EPS products, including in the form of probabilities for a specific time frame;
- Regional Specialized Meteorological Centres (RSMCs) interpret information received from global centres, prepare daily guidance products (1-5 day) for distribution to National Meteorological Centres (NMCs) and maintain the regional centre website;
- National Meteorological Centres (NMCs) issue alerts, advisories, severe weather warnings; liaise with disaster management and other economic sectors, and contribute feedback of the project.
Representatives of the U.K.’s Met Office, the U.S. National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center, the European Center for Medium Range Weather Forecasts and Deutscher Wetterdienst attended the meeting in Arusha to discuss how global centres are making their forecast products and know-how freely available to the regional centre in Nairobi. All also offer training packages to meteorologists from countries participating in the severe weather forecast project.
The project has also been rolled out in the Southwest Pacific Islands. Preparations are being made for its implementation in Southeast Asia and the Bay of Bengal.
Many challenges remain, not least because of the inadequate observation and communications network and lack of automatic weather stations in the region. But the experience in southern Africa has shown that the shift to new forecasting methods including the numerical weather and ensemble systems, has boosted disaster risk reduction in countries such as cyclone-prone countries like Mozambique, and has won widespread recognition.
“It has changed the way we do the forecast,” said Ezekiel Sebego, a senior forecaster with the South African Weather Service which operates the Regional Specialized Meteorological Center in Pretoria. “We have got good feedback not just from disaster managers but also the general public. We get comments like “this time you guys are really getting the forecast right”.