by Edward B. Wisseh (Liberia), Alpha M.M. Diallo (Senegal), Kalumbete Irene B (Tanzania), Nyaga J. Wanjohi (Kenya)
Two fundamental requirements for effective running of the World Weather Watch (WWW) are adequacy of human resources and of physical infrastructure. When the WWW was established in the 1960s, these two requirements formed the most important obstacles for WMO and its partners to deliver an efficient and effective cooperation framework for global weather monitoring. Since the inception of the WWW, WMO has cooperated with diverse partners in order to respond to the human resources needs of developing countries through its Education and Training Programme. Through strategic interventions considerable support has been rendered to countries in enhancing their human resource and infrastructural capabilities. One example is WMO cooperation with China, which has promoted training and scientific research in the fields of meteorology and hydrology and enhanced regional environment monitoring and protection, especially in Africa. Under this agreement, WMO fellows have been able to benefit from training at Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology (NUIST). A group of WMO fellows who have just benefited from such training present their experience in this article.
Why the fellowships
Weather forecasting is the application of science and technology to predict the state of the atmosphere for a given location. It requires that practitioners make judgments amid uncertainties, which is not an easy task. It requires perception, comprehension and projection of information, known in meteorology as analysis, diagnosis and prognosis. The forecast methods used in Kenya, Liberia, Senegal and Tanzania – our homes – are mainly focused on temperature, wind, precipitation and pressure changes. China, on the other hand, conducts a deeper analysis of many more parameters, following a step-by-step process to yield accurate weather forecasts. Therefore, we chose to leave our homes to participate in a three-month forecasting fellowship in 2012, sponsored by the China Meteorology Administration (CMA) and WMO.
China forecasting procedures
China has experienced remarkable technological and scientific growth in the last two decades that has had a tremendous impact in the field of meteorology, especially in facilitating research and the sharing of information. CMA’s two regional meteorological training centers in Beijing and Nanjing serve primarily to organize major meteorological research projects and to promote the application of proven research findings to meteorological operations, while guiding and coordinating meteorological education and training.
China has a dense network of surface and upper-level observation stations. It is one of the few countries in the world to simultaneously operate both geostationary and polar orbiting meteorological satellite series, the Feng Yun (FY) satellites. The main data set used for forecasting, from a combination of the FY2D and FY2E satellites, is stored in a central mainframe server which every weather station in China can access using forecasting software. Thus, each provincial station has the ability to make its own weather forecasts, under the supervision of the headquarters office, which collects all the information from these stations before making countrywide forecasts for each region of the country.
At CMA data analysis and weather forecasting include manual tasks, such as the analysis of charts, and automatic functions such as the pointing of observational synoptic data for surface and upper-air on base maps by dedicated printer and the plotting of isolines. All data are subject to quality control by forecasters. In order to improve the accuracy of forecasts, analysis of Tlog-p maps, wind rose, satellite and radar images and consultation of numerical weather prediction products are added to complete the analysis. Those model outputs include products from ECMWF, Japan, Germany and local numerical models, which are compared with the analysis done by the forecaster.
CMA takes every possible measure to minimize errors. Their dense network of weather stations puts WMO standard requirements for accuracy in reading and recording data from meteorological instruments into application. They couple the use of automatic weather stations with manual stations to minimize human error. Instruments are routinely checked to minimize bias in observations. Stations in mountainous areas are constructed to measure katabatic and anabatic winds. The list of these measures is long.
This is not the case in most of our home countries, which have few operational weather radars and upper-wind profilers and which also need to improve their network of weather stations in order to improve their forecasting capabilities.
Training and social experiences in CMA
During the three-month course, various professors and teachers lectured us on forecasting, some focusing on the basic notions while others ventured onto more enriching subjects, providing deeper knowledge on topics such as weather radar and satellite meteorology. This consolidated our meteorological knowledge, improved our weather analysis procedures and opened up new horizons to us by giving us diverse ways to apply the knowledge acquired.
Every morning we consulted the weather forecast of the Central Meteorological Observatory, and by doing so learned to appreciate the forecasting process and the importance of improving forecasting skills. Real-time weather discussions and exchanges with teachers immersed us in the experience and helped us to see the deficiencies in our forecasting methods. The experience was uplifting and the teachers further contributed to making it enjoyable by organizing camping trips, dinners and games – activities that created a cooperative spirit and helped with the integration of students and their CMA hosts. Hence we established what we are confident will be long lasting and profound friendships with fellow forecasters in China.
We returned to our homes more convinced than ever that being a weather forecaster is a glorious career, because an accurate forecast can effectively reduce disaster risk and protect lives and property, something which we are proud to be able to contribute to.
The challenges we now face
Teaching – There is a definite need for capacity building in meteorology for the improvement and development of forecasting methods in our home countries and we would like to be active in this area. Those of us living in countries which lack a meteorological training infrastructure, plan to draft proposals for their establishment. Those in countries where an infrastructure is in place will make proposals on how to refresh and improve the training offered. The experienced and qualified forecasters in our home countries should have opportunities to share their knowledge with others; we would all benefit. Proposals will be made on mechanisms for continuing cooperation with China and other leading meteorological organizations in order to expand the training of forecasters, as well as establishing avenues for trainees in other countries to share their knowledge.
Awareness – Our fellow citizens also lack a full understanding of the importance of meteorology. Our experience in China has allowed us to discern its importance, and it is vital to transmit this message to the public. Existing marketing and advertising messages need to be improved and the frequency of meteorological seminars should be increased. National news media should send more cohesive and targeted messages to the users of forecasting products – forecasts are meaningless if they do not reach the intended audience. More avenues of communication – for example, social media websites and mobile phones networks – should be used.
Advising the relevant authority – An efficient advisory structure through which information can flow from top management to forecasters and vice versa should also be set up to improve communication.
Cooperation with other countries – International cooperation between neighbouring African countries could also be beneficial for many areas, from data sharing to improvements in forecasting procedures and the creation of a central data hub that local weather stations could access for their forecasts.
Numerical weather prediction products from China and other countries could be shared to compare weather forecasts. At present, foreign numerical weather prediction models have been customized to work in our countries, but efforts should be made to come up with new models purposefully built for each individual country. This would help to improve forecasting.
The road ahead
The challenges above make it clear that a lot remains to be done in our home countries. The priority is to implement the scientific concept we have learnt to provide meteorological services targeted for the public. Our CMA experience from mid-summer to autumn was a great success, we are now much more confident about our forecasting skills. We are of the view that the deployment of our expertise in Africa can only make further contributions towards the enhancement of forecasting capability in Africa and in the world at large. We have enhanced our knowledge and now have access to a more extensive network of professional partners with whom we can work for the betterment of international cooperation on the World Weather Watch, and other services required of the WMO community by its Members.
We would like to pay tribute to the leadership of the National Meteorological Center and WMO for giving us access to this pre-service training. Our deepest gratitude goes out to the China Meteorological Administration, its teachers and staff members whose structured and organized training courses provided us with solid learning in a live environment.