Zimbabwe: Msd to Issue Impact-Based Forecasts

21 November 2019

With more violent storms and associated high winds, hailstorms and flash floods likely, the Meteorological Services Department (MSD) will now issue more detailed impact-based weather information to reduce injuries to the public and damage to infrastructure.

The start of the rainy season has been marked by more violent storms than usual for this time of the year, largely as a result of the extra energy pumped into the atmosphere during the recent spell of record heatwaves.

This has led to bursts of very high winds, caused by down-flows from the storm clouds, that have ripped off roofs, uprooted trees, and injured people with flying debris.

There has already been damage to electricity lines by falling trees and other infrastructure damage. Lightning, as with every season, is a danger for unprotected people, livestock and electric installations.

Intense downpours have caused flash flooding, when run-off exceeds the capacity of the land to absorb the rainfall or when storm water drains are inadequate.

The Met Department is now giving the public the forecast of the weather event, largely storms at this time of the year, its causes, when its likely to occur, how it will happen, dangers associated with the phenomenon and what the public should do to protect themselves.

Specific weather information is also given for the agriculture sector, aviation and those in seismology (dealing with earthquakes).

There are efforts by the MSD to also incorporate the mining, water and health sectors.

The MSD is working on an agreement with the national broadcaster, ZBC, to ensure that when there is a threatening weather the announcement will override any other programmes and be published instantly.

The recent violent storms have already killed three people, injured several others and damaged infrastructure and property in many parts of the country.

The MSD issued advisories of these isolated events informing the public of the thunderstorms.

In an interview on Monday MSD principal meteorologist, Mr James Ngoma said the energy created by the high temperatures was transformed when extra moisture came into the atmosphere, resulting in lightning, strong winds, hailstorms and sharp intense downpours.

He said as the rainfall season progresses, the country will be faced with the threat of flash floods since the ground will be saturated. Urban areas will also see such flash floods, because so much ground is built over, if drains are not kept clear and properly maintained.

These early season storm have also brought high rainfall to some areas.

Kwekwe received 132mm in 24 hours, Chibero 57mm, Chivi 72mm and Binga 51 mm. Mr Ngoma said these were isolated incidents that were not localised.

"For the past days we have experienced strong winds that destroyed roofs and damaged properties. Lightning affects people, livestock, buildings and electrical infrastructure.

"Flash flooding occurred in Buhera, Kwekwe, Masvingo and Lupane among some areas. We had given advisories of the potential of lighting and the sharp downpours. When its localised we give specific warnings," he said.

Mr Ngoma said for advisories, the department gives daily forecasts.

"We have gone beyond weather information. We now give the impact. Giving the effects of the weather for instance the violence associated with the storms, heat stroke that may affect people due to high temperatures for frost we give the damage that may be caused to crops.

"We are trying to drive this forward. We are not ending at the forecast but the impact of the forecast. We urge the public to read the whole forecast.

"We are now giving colour coded format, giving the pictorial advisory that is eye catching and captivating to the audience," he said.

Mr Ngoma said they give their weather updates on television, Facebook, WhatsApp and twitter.

"For viewers in remote areas who cannot access that data, we are still giving them information through the radio or in text format. We disseminate information in different channels. We work with the ZBC using their radio stations," he said.

"We are also working closely with the Department of Civil Protection as they have structures from ward level to disseminate information."

Mr Ngoma said farmers receive a rainfall bulletin, an agromet bulletin which is realised in 10 days and gives a forecast that helps farmers prepare and plan, and a 10 day seasonal forecast. Farmers also get a monthly update of the forecast.

"Public weather forecasts give a forecast of three days in advance and have greater accuracy than the longer forecast. It is updated daily and also caters for the farming communities.

"We give advisories for a broader view of what is likely to happen. A watch is what is likely to happen with greater significance usually between three to five days, while an alert is a threat that is more imminent and is area specific.

Warnings usually require immediate action and are communicated to responsible authorities such as the DCP, fire brigade and police, among others.

Mr Ngoma said the MSD was facing some resource challenges and called for more resources.

Ministry of Environment, Climate Change, Tourism and Hospitality Industry director for Climate Change management, Mr Washington Zhakata, said there was need for the strengthening of disaster management framework to be more prepared.

He said if another cyclone of the Idai magnitude was to strike again, Zimbabwe would be caught wanting.

"There is need to mainstream climate change into our development planning, into our provincial planning, district planning for us to ensure that we have even the safe havens when such disasters hit us. We need to know where people should run to, which at the moment we do not know," he said.

"So many people are settled in areas that are unsustainable for settlements near river beds, mountain slopes which can be affected by mud slides and so forth, so we need to do a thorough assessment of the levels of vulnerability to our communities then we identify some adoption options, adoption activities that result in us strengthening our disaster risk reduction strategies."

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