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Weather forecasting in Africa

ICTP, WMO address need for improved weather data, forecasting methods in Africa

ICTP is collaborating with the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) through the WWRP/THORPEX programme ( to help African nations prepare for extreme weather events such as tropical cyclones, droughts, severe dust storms and flooding. Such high-impact weather events can have severe consequences for food and water security, livelihoods, and health.

The collaboration aims to assist African meteorologists by improving forecasting tools and methodologies. A major first step toward this goal is to develop a new database of key high-impact African weather events.

"Our aim is to build an information system for both weather and impact data," said Aida Diongue-Niang of the National Meteorological Agency, Dakar, Senegal, and co-chair of the WMO-sponsored project’s African regional committee. Diongue-Niang was an organiser of the recent workshop on "High-impact weather predictability and information system for Africa", hosted by ICTP and co-funded by the WMO, the Group on Earth Observations (GEO) programme, and the African-based programme Recherche Interdisciplinaire et Participative sur les Interactions entre les Ecosystèmes, le Climat, et les Sociétés d’Afrique de l’ouest (RIPIESCA).

"The database will contain a catalogue of typical high-impact weather events, describing the current knowledge of such events, showing how well they can be predicted by numerical models as well as the limits of those models, but also their societal, economic and environmental impact. The hope is that the database will serve as an important resource for meteorological research to improve daily, weekly, biweekly and monthly predictions by and for African nations," said Diongue-Niang.

As well as research scientists from Africa, Europe and North America, the workshop was attended by representatives of national meteorological agencies throughout the African continent, who committed their services to provide previously unavailable data to the new database.  The workshop identified a number of target high impact events that occurred recently, such as the severe flooding that hit Burkina Faso and Senegal in 2009, which will serve in a pilot database system.

As an example of its support to scientific development, ICTP has already started to put the system in place for an interim prototype database, which will be hosted in Trieste. Eventually this database will be hosted in several locations throughout the African continent.

The workshop also included planning sessions for the development of an African forecasters' handbook, an effort led by Doug Parker of the University of Leeds, with an initial focus on western Africa.

"The handbook is needed to update knowledge and forecasting methods of the west African monsoon system through exchange and collaborations between the forecasting and research communities, including recent research results of the African Monsoon Multidisciplinary Analysis programme. In West Africa, a comprehensive handbook does not exist yet and methods of forecasting vary in countries and between forecasters," explained Diongue-Niang.  The workshop identified a number of experts who will contribute to the handbook in the coming months.


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