New Tool To Enhance Weather Forecasters' Skills In Satellite Meteorology, Improve Forecasts Across Africa

May 12, 1998

BOULDER, Colo. -- Four African meteorologists have spent the past nine months in Boulder building a multimedia CD-ROM that demonstrates how to best use satellite data for improving weather forecasts in the tropics. Better forecasts, including daily and seasonal rainfall predictions, are critical to Africa, where millions of lives depend on the current year's crops from farms of all sizes.

The module will be distributed to the national weather forecasting centers across Africa. Once back at their respective meteorological training centers in Niger and Kenya, the four technology pioneers will teach educators from across the continent the process of building such modules for meteorology and other applications.

The Cooperative Program for Operational Meteorology Education and Training (or COMET, part of the Boulder-based University Corporation for Atmospheric Research), trained the four scientists--Koffigan Attitso, of Togo; Emmanuel Kploguede, of Benin; and Joseph Kagenyi and James Kongoti, both of Kenya--in how to develop the module. The German Organization for Technical Cooperation (GTZ) and the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) funded the program, known as the African Satellite Meteorology Education and Training (ASMET) project.

Because sub-Saharan economies depend on rain-fed agriculture, better forecasts could raise the general standard of living. "The most important forecasting issue for both policymakers and farmers is predicting the start and end of the seasonal rains," says Kongoti. In most of Africa there is little irrigation; crops depend entirely on seasonal rainfall. When the farmers produce enough food, says Kagenyi, "we all eat better, and we live better."

All four participants are instructors in satellite meteorology and are adept at computer applications. Kongoti and Kagenyi are instructors at the Institute for Meteorological Training and Research (IMTR) in Nairobi, in English-speaking East Africa. Attitso and Kploguede are instructors at the African School of Meteorology and Civil Aviation in Niamey, Niger, in French-speaking West Africa. Both institutes operate in cooperation with the World Meteorological Organization.

The four are well aware that African forecasters face serious disadvantages in trying to predict the weather. Three essential components taken for granted by forecasters in the western world are missing in Africa: adequate weather data, widespread expertise in the use of satellite imagery, and computer forecast models with appropriate parameters.

According to Attitso, "We have very little conventional weather data in Africa. That is the number-one obstacle we face in making a good weather forecast."

In many parts of Africa, weather observation stations are located only in regional administrative centers, often hundreds of kilometers apart. The World Meteorological Organization's recommendations for station distribution are not fully implemented because of limited resources.

Kongoti agrees, "The quality of weather forecasts in Africa is very poor. Besides having so little conventional data, the use of satellite imagery is limited. We made this module to teach forecasters how to exploit the data that we do have, which is mostly from satellites."

EUMETSAT, a consortium of 17 western European countries, operates a weather satellite that provides excellent coverage of Africa. "From its position in space, the best pictures that the satellite gets are the ones of Africa," says Kploguede. "With this module, we are going to train forecasters to use those images to their full potential and make better forecasts."

Another obstacle faced by African meteorologists is the lack of forecast models. Says Attitso, "The European models are not relevant to the tropics. We have completely different forecasting problems from those in Europe, and these problems vary across our continent." For example, whether a country is located north or south of the intertropical convergence zone--where the northeast and southeast trade winds meet and rise--has a tremendous influence on weather. The European models do not adequately account for the ITCZ.

While in Boulder, the four meteorologists performed every aspect of creating the module: providing content; designing, scripting, and programming; developing animations; preparing audio and video; and planning for the module's use. COMET project leader Marianne Weingroff, who holds a master's degree in instructional design, says, "It's the best project I've ever worked on. All four are totally committed to their mission."

The module exists in both English and French. Educators from around Africa are expected to travel to the centers in Nairobi and Niamey for training in satellite meteorology, using the module. Some may also learn how to build similar tools tailored to their own needs. The module will be available for distance education at forecasters' offices as well.

"Our CD-ROM is a tool for studying tropical meteorology anywhere, not just in Africa. You can use it in southern California, in Mexico, in any tropical or subtropical region," says Kagenyi.

According to COMET project manager Brian Heckman, one thousand copies of the module will be distributed, not only in Africa, but also to developing countries around the world, and to U.S. universities offering courses in tropical meteorology. U.S. forecasters are interested in African weather because many of the hurricanes that reach the United States develop from tropical waves over central Africa. These waves are among the topics included in the module.

Attitso, Kagenyi, Kongoti, and Kploguede are beginning to plan for their next module, which will cover additional topics in using satellite data to make better weather forecasts. They will build the CD-ROM in Africa in collaboration with Weingroff over e-mail. She has already helped them map out a production schedule.

After nine months in Boulder, the four African scientists will head home later this month. Says Kploguede, "We are the pioneers, but the project is not only for us and our institutes. We are going to train people from all over the continent of Africa through this module. We are going to help our people. This project is real."

The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR) is a consortium of more than 60 North American universities offering Ph.D.s in the atmospheric and related sciences.

National Center for Atmospheric Research/University Corporation for Atmospheric Research

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