The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) Regional Association for North America, Central America and the Caribbean (RAIV) has held its four-yearly session with a focus on how to improve early warnings, disaster risk reduction and climate resilience.
Many countries in the region, which extends from Canada to the Caribbean, saw extreme or unusual weather including heatwaves and intense precipitation. Many are vulnerable to coastal inundation and storm surges, which are being exacerbated by climate change and associated sea level rise. There is increasing evidence that melting Arctic sea ice is affecting weather and ocean circulation in mid-latitudes.
The devastation caused by Hurricane Matthew and Hurricane Otto in the Caribbean in 2016, and El Niño-related extreme weather loomed large over the Regional Association meeting, hosted by Costa Rica’s National Meteorological and Hydrological Service in San Jose from 27 to 31 March.
“Costa Rica is still recovering from the impacts of Hurricane Otto, one of the latest forming hurricanes on record and the first hurricane since 1851 to directly affect our country,” said Juan Carlos Fallas Sojo, Permament Representative of Costa Rica with WMO and President of Regional Association IV.
“Excellent early warnings, strong communication and advance preparation limited casualties from this highly unusual event and provide a model for future action,” said Mr Fallas, who was reelected RAIV President.
Hurricane Otto made landfall in southern Nicaragua on 24 November. It was responsible for 18 deaths, including 10 in Costa Rica and 8 in Panama.
Hurricane Matthew made landfall in southern Haiti on 4 October – the first category 4 storm to do so since 1963. The Haitian government reported at least 546 fatalities, with 1.4 million needing humanitarian assistance.
The RAIV Hurricane Committee, which met on the eve of the RAIV session, retired the names Matthew and Otto from the list of rotating names.
It also made a decision, among others, to add “potential hurricane advisories” in the region’s Hurricane Operational Plan. This would make the advisory information available for tropical systems with the future potential to become hurricanes. The decision is based on the need for eariy preparations to assist in disaster risk reduction and management.
“The increase in extreme weather and climate events – well documented by WMO global reports – requires that the National Meteorological and Hydrological Services play an even more critical role in disaster risk reduction. The Regional Association has the vital task to stimulate and coordinate this process,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas told the RAIV session.
The meeting discussed regional input to a planned global meteo alarm system, which would coordinate national alerts and warnings of weather and water related hazards. This is a major new initiative by WMO and is based on the successful Meteoalarm system which is operational in Europe.
“WMO and its Members are continuously working to provide more accurate forecasting and warning services which are impact-based and address multiple hazards including heatwaves, heavy precipitation and flooding,” said WMO Assistant Secretary-General Wenjian Zhang.
The meeting discussed how to optimize water resource management – including through integrated flood and drought management platforms – and strengthen hydrological monitoring, service delivery and capacity building.
Regional implementation of other WMO priorities such as the WMO Integrated Global Observing System and the Global Framework for Climate Services was also on the agenda.
Haiti weather services
An update was provided on the Haiti Weather Systems Programme – Climate Services to Reduce Vulnerability in Haiti, funded by Canada. The five-year project aims to develop the capacity of the National Meteorological and Hydrological Services of Haiti to deliver early warnings and also general weather, climate and hydrological services to increase resilience to disasters..
Latest developments include:
- The construction of new headquarters for Haiti’s Hydrometeorology Unit due to be opened in either May or June.
- The installation of a network of 6 automatic stations (5 operational and 1 pending completion) was finalized in 2016 with the collaboration of INSMET (Cuba), allowing real-time consultation of different meteorological parameters.
- Installation of equipment to generate and communicate weather forecasts and alerts is planned for the coming months.
- Training for Haiti’s Hydrometeorology Unit personnel, including a refresher course on aeronautical assistance requiired by the International Civil Aviation Organization, carried out with the support of Meteo-France.
- Capacity development activities