New online portal enhances forecasts of large storms in W. Africa

An online platform developed by the UKCEH (UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology) will reportedly allow forecasters in West Africa to offer communities more reliable and earlier large storm warnings.

Storms in the Sahel region can reach sizes of over 100 km and have become increasingly severe since the 1980s owing to global warming.

Advanced weather forecast models find it difficult to predict the location and the intensity of new storms. This makes it challenging to issue warnings to people in affected regions so that they can safeguard their livestock and property or get themselves out of harm’s way.

Africa’s national forecasting agencies can already predict the behavior of storms in the next two hours by analyzing existing atmospheric conditions and assessing hundreds of historical storms.

But with the recent success of UKCEH scientists, they can make short-term forecasts, dubbed nowcasts, with higher accuracy up to six hours ahead.

The new nowcasting tool enables forecasters to observe storm clouds in real-time through satellite and collate them with historical storm behavior. It also views data on existing land surface conditions.

The online portal then utilizes this data, which is updated every 15 minutes, to compute the possibility of a mesoscale convective system reaching various areas of the Sahel between the current time and six hours further.

The new research found that drier soils can augment the intensity of moving storms, which affects the amount of rainfall produced and their direction of travel.

These advanced nowcasting predictions and associated satellite observations for West Africa are available through the new free portal developed by UKCEH, which has been financed by the NERC (Natural Environment Research Council).

National forecasters can decipher the data and give localized forecasts, sending warnings to people in regions that are predicted to be hit by a storm. A year ago, forecasters in Senegal utilized it as part of the tool’s trial to send out a severe weather warning to the public through text messages.

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