Storm approaching elephants on the banks of the Chobe River in Africa on a late afternoon trip

Africa obtains life-saving tool to predict climate-related disasters

Image credit: Ghorne66 | Dreamstime

A new weather forecasting system being deployed in Africa allows meteorologists to track approaching storms in real time, potentially saving lives from climate-related disasters.

According to scientists behind the project at the University of Leeds, the technology is already used in developed countries but was not widley available until recently in sub-Saharan Africa.

“We had forecasting methods before but they were not as good," said David Koros, principal meteorologist at the Kenya Meteorological Department. “It’s very important because we can issue information for the safety of lives, property and the environment.”

The new system, called nowcasting, was tested last year in Kenya and is now used by the country on a regular basis. Koros said the technique has helped with the evacuation of people affected by landslides and mudslides in Western Kenya and flooding on Lake Victoria.

Senegal, Nigeria and Ghana also have teams interpreting the satellite-derived data and issuing warnings through an initiative funded by the British government.

“Weather forecasting is potentially very valuable to people’s lives in Africa in a way that I think people in northern countries are more detached from,” said Doug Parker, a professor of meteorology at Leeds.

Extreme weather is becoming more commonplace in Africa as the planet warms. This has resulted in huge losses for economies that are dependent on farming and has caused numerous deaths in the region due to floods and mudslides.

“If it weren’t for climate change we’d still need to do this, but climate change makes it more imperative because the storms are getting more intense,” said Parker.

Nowcasting uses satellites that monitor changes in the atmosphere. The researchers said the information recorded in space can reach forecasters’ desks in 15 minutes. It also allows meteorologists to alert people when a storm is heading their way.

The forecasts now cover all of Africa and are freely available online, but interpreting and disseminating the data is another question. “As our next steps, we are working to make this information accessible for the ordinary person,” Parker said.

In February this year, the Meteorological Office unveiled a new supercomputer intended to improve extreme weather and climate forecasting in the UK.

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