Severe Weather Forecasting Project Gains Ground

Severe Weather Forecasting Project Gains Ground

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Published

21 November 2014

A successful WMO project to help meteorological services in developing countries provide forecasts and warnings of hazardous weather is gaining momentum in Africa.

The Severe Weather Forecasting Demonstration Project (SWFDP) 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 protect people and property and supporting vital sectors like farming, fishing and transportation.

As part of ongoing efforts to strengthen the capacity of National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs) and build greater disaster resilience, WMO sponsored an East African Regional Training Workshop on Severe Weather Forecasting and Warning Services in Kigali, Rwanda from 10 to 21 November 2014. Around 30 participants, including forecasters and experts from public weather service and agricultural meteorology divisions, attended from seven countries (Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda). The training workshop, held for the first time in Rwanda, is the fifth to take place for Eastern African countries since the inception of the Severe Weather Forecasting Demonstration Project in this region in 2010.

A similar two week training workshop, including a session on the Flash Flood Guidance System, was also conducted in Pretoria, South Africa, in October/November, 2014 for 12 countries in Southern Africa.

The workshops trained NMHS staff in the use of the latest Numerical Weather Prediction (NWP) and Ensemble Prediction System (EPS) products and satellite information to improve severe weather forecasting and provide timely alerts and warnings to the public, disaster managers, agriculture sector and fishers especially in the Lake Victoria basin.

The Eastern African region as a whole 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. The Lake Victoria area has many complex weather systems and 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.

In densely populated Rwanda, lightning causes many casualties and has destroyed meteorological infrastructure at least twice in the past three years. John Ntaganda Semafara, Director General of Rwanda Meteorology Agency, said there was a real need for the Severe Weather Forecasting Demonstration Project, which has been very beneficial to improve the accuracy and timeliness of forecasts and warnings of hazardous conditions.

The SWFDP uses a “Cascading Forecasting Process” (global to regional, to national).

  • Global NWP Centresprovide available NWP and EPS products, including in the form of probabilities for a specific time frame;
  • Regional Specialized Meteorological Centresinterpret 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 Centresissue alerts, advisories, severe weather warnings; liaise with disaster management and other economic sectors, and contribute feedback of the project.

The SWFDP has been successfully implemented over the past nine years in many countries in Southern and Eastern Africa, the island states of the Southwest Pacific and Southeast Asia. It is now being developed in the Bay of Bengal and Central Asia. Within next 1-2 years the project will most likely expand to cover Western Africa and South America as well. The project in Africa is currently funded by Norway.

Ultimately, the project will empower the NMHSs of participating countries to maintain effective warning programmes for all meteorological hazards, with better accuracy, more notice, and responsive to the needs of the principle users, including disaster management and civil protection agencies, the news media and the general public.

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