9 September 2017

Southern Africa: Storm Early Warning System Set to Benefit Lake Victoria Users

Fishermen in Lake Victoria whose lives are often threatened by violent storms may soon know when not to go out to fish thanks to a new satellite-based forecast system which should help to provide early warnings of storms.

About 200,000 people fish in this lake and the International Red Cross believes that every year between 3,000 and 5,000 fishermen die because of the violent storms.

This is because of boating accidents caused by intense night-time thunderstorms that can whip-up unexpectedly.

Scientists say that Victoria, Africa's largest lake, is the perfect setting for brewing thunderstorms.

This is because during the day hot air rises over the land surrounding the lake creating onshore breezes. At night, the opposite occurs, with air rising over the now warmer watermass, pulling air offshore from the cooling land.

Now European scientists monitoring weather conditions in the lake using regular satellite observations believe they have devised a model for predicting when storms will happen. Moreover, these should soon be published on Twitter and freely available to all.

According to Wim Thiery, a climate scientist from ETH Zürich writing in the journal Environmental Research Letters, there is a strong statistical relationship between certain weather conditions and the probability of a storm.

The model they have developed uses satellite observations to generate storm warnings several hours in advance, and the predictions are then made publicly available. Now the team is developing an automatic storm warning system.

"Every year, intense night-time thunderstorms cause numerous boating accidents on the lake, resulting in thousands of deaths among fishermen. Operational storm warning systems are, therefore, crucial. Here we complement ongoing early warning efforts based on numerical weather predictions, by presenting a new satellite data-driven storm prediction system," Mr Thiery said.

Storms are so common in Lake Victoria because it is shaped like a circle and land breezes from all directions converge above the lake. Experts say that if you add evaporation to this and you get a lot of storms, rain, wind, and waves.

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