African SWIFT tests state of the art weather forecasting methods in tropical Africa

New state of the art weather forecasting methods will be tested in tropical Africa, as part of a partnership between UK and African scientists. These methods have the potential to save lives and mitigate the economic damage caused by severe weather events.

During the two weeks, 23 April-6 May, a team of GCRF African SWIFT researchers and operational forecasters will meet in Nairobi, Kenya to conduct a weather forecasting testbed. Hosted by SWIFT partners, the Kenya Meteorological Agency (KMD), the testbed will bring together researchers and operational forecasters from across West and East Africa, to engage in the developmental testing of forecasting systems in a quasi-operational environment.

Teams will together create forecasts, testing in real time current forecasting and “nowcasting” capability, as well as newly proposed methods. Their purpose is to gain insight into the issues faced in producing and delivering forecasts, and to work to improve both forecasts and their delivery to user groups in Africa. They will test new methods, highlight areas for improvement in the methods currently used, and develop closer working relationships between the academic and operational forecaster communities and forecast user groups. Following the testbed, African and UK scientists will work together to develop and put into place further improvements to the forecasting and Nowcasting systems, and evaluate their benefits for users of the forecasts.The scientific focus of the testbed will be the integration of research and operational practice in the area of synoptic weather forecasting and nowcasting.

The African SWIFT Testbed aims to advance forecasting science and to bring about step changes to the delivery of forecasting in Africa in three key areas:

Nowcasting: Many of the forecasting products or tools developed by meteorologists have, to date, focused largely on European weather systems and consequently have been of limited use to forecasters in Africa. The SWIFT testbed will evaluate a set of these products, the NWC SAF Nowcasting software, to determine how the tools can be adapted to African weather systems, and so advance forecasting techniques in Africa. They will consider factors such as temperature thresholds and time-ranges, to determine how these can be adapted to work with African weather features and dynamics, and so advance forecasting capability.

During the two weeks, testbed teams will, for the first time in Africa, test and evaluate convection permitting ensemble (CP ensemble) forecasting. They will use a set of models, designed by SWIFT partners at the UK Met Office specifically for the Testbed, to provide measures of confidence in the accuracy of forecasts of storms. CP ensembles have been used for several years now, in the UK and elsewhere, to improve forecast confidence, but so far they have not been used in African weather forecasting. Convective storms are highly chaotic, and it is very hard to have confidence in the results of a single forecast. An ensemble model provides the forecaster with several forecasts of the same event, from which they can judge how likely that event may be. It is during the SWIFT testbeds that these ensemble models are being used in Africa for the first time. Given the high incidence of convective storms in Africa, and the severity of many of those storms, the addition of ensemble models to the range of tools available to African forecasters, introduces the potential for a step change improvement in forecasting confidence across the continent.

During the testbed, the Nairobi teams are engaging directly with African forecast user groups at a Stakeholder Workshop that is running concurrently with the testbed. The workshop is organised by SWIFT and KMD in partnership with the ForPAc project. Stakeholders representing many different forecast user groups and economic sectors, such as the Red Cross, farming and fishing communities, water resources agencies, and the oil and gas industry, are taking part. Users will be given the opportunity to view real-time forecasts produced by the testbed teams, using newly developed visualisation tools, and to feedback their impressions.  The testbed teams will create bespoke forecasts for the different user groups, who each require forecasts based on different geographical areas and timescales. For example, it is likely that airport personnel will be interested in very short-term forecasts of 0-6 hours, whereas representatives from large-scale agriculture or the oil and gas industries may prefer to see forecasts for several days in advance.  As well as forecasts based on different areas and timescales, the testbed will also look at adapting their forecasts for the different user groups by using different delivery methods such as text bulletin, numerical forecasts etc. A major effort in the testbed will be to conduct systematic evaluation of the forecasts. This will include evaluation of the quantitative information included in a forecast, such as the timing and location of rainfall, but will also include evaluation of the usefulness of forecasts for the users.

African SWIFT Principal Investigator Professor Doug Parker comments, “Africa experiences some of the most intense storms on planet Earth, and these storms are increasing in intensity due to climate change. Meteorologists have developed new methods to observe and predict these storms, and to provide warnings which can help people to take action. We are very excited to be trialing some of these methods for the first time in Africa.”

Organisations involved in the testbed include:

  • African Centre of Meteorological Applications for Development (ACMAD), Niger
  • Agence Nationale de l’Aviation Civile et de la Meteorologie (ANACIM), Senegal
  • Ecole Panafricane de Météorologie et d’Aviation Civile (EAMAC)
  • Federal University of Technology Akure (FUTA), Nigeria
  • Towards Forecast-based Preparedness Action (ForPAc), Kenya (funded by the UK’s NERC/DFID through the ‘Science for Humanitarian Emergencies and Resilience’ (SHEAR) Research Programme
  • Ghana Meteorological Agency (GMet)
  • Kenya Meteorological Department (KMD)
  • IMTR-Nairobi, Kenya
  • Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Ghana
  • National Centre for Atmospheric Sciences (NCAS), UK
  • Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet), Nigeria
  • UK Met Office
  • University of Leeds, UK
  • University of Reading, UK
  • Université Cheikh Anta Diop (UCAD), Senegal
  • University of Nairobi, Kenya
  • South Sudan Meteorological Department
  • Tanzania Meteorological Agency
  • Uganda National Meteorological Authority (UNMA)
  • WMO RTC, Lagos, Nigeria

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