Most African countries have lacked good forecasting methods as weather becomes increasingly extreme
By Nellie Peyton
WASHINGTON, May 18 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A new weather forecasting system in Africa allows meteorologists to track approaching storms in real time, potentially saving lives from climate-related disasters, scientists said on Monday.
The technology is already used in developed countries but was not available until recently in most of sub-Saharan Africa, according to scientists behind the project at the University of Leeds.
"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," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The new method, called nowcasting, was tested in Kenya last year. The state now uses it regularly and it has helped with the evacuation of people affected by landslides and mudslides in Western Kenya and flooding on Lake Victoria, Koros said.
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 and co-lead of the project.
Extreme weather is becoming more common in Africa as the planet warms, resulting in huge losses for economies dependent on farming and countless deaths 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. Information recorded in space can reach the forecasters' desks in 15 minutes.
It allows meteorologists to alert people that there is a storm very close and headed their way, said Parker.
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," said Parker.
(Reporting by Nellie Peyton; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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