Second Southern Africa Climate Webinar: Advance Warning of Extreme Precipitation and the Meteorology/Emergency-Response Interface

Proceedings of the Southern Africa Climate Webinar #2

Theme: Advance warning of extreme precipitation and the meteorology/emergency-response interface

Written by Tamuka Magadzire

The 2nd Southern Africa Climate Webinar was held on Thursday, 9 May 2019 under the theme Advance warning of extreme precipitation, and the meteorology/emergency-response interface. The webinar was organized by the SADC Climate Services Centre (CSC) and the UCSB Climate Hazards Center (CHC). Presentations and discussion focused on the production, dissemination, and application of advance warnings for extreme precipitation events.  Participants in the webinar included attendees from Botswana, Madagascar, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, SADC CSC, and the USA. Attendees sent in their questions during the presentations, and these were responded to by the participants.

In the first presentation, Dr. Nsadisa Faka of the SADC CSC described the disaster risk management processes in the SADC region, with the role of climate information. He outlined the early warnings that SADC CSC had issued during the development of Tropical Cyclone Idai, at least 10 days before the event took place. Dr. Nsadisa concluded with the challenges that SADC CSC and national meteorological agencies face in implementing their mandate to track and provide advisories on extreme precipitation events.

Dr. Chris Funk, from USGS and UCSB CHC, followed up with a presentation on combining satellite rainfall observations with weather model predictions to produce integrated monitoring products. In his talk, Dr. Funk described the process that the CHC has developed for bias-correcting precipitation forecasts to produce the CHIRPS-GEFS short-range forecasts. He further described how they operationally combine the CHIRPS-GEFS forecasts with observations to produce CHC early estimates that can potentially contribute to flood and drought forecasting efforts. The CHIRPS-GEFS estimates are available to view and download on the CHC website.

Mr. Clement Kalonga, a sustainable development expert with a focus on disaster risk reduction (DRR), closed out the presentations with a talk on the information needs of DRR agencies regarding extreme precipitation and flooding. Mr. Kalonga underlined the extent to which effective disaster risk management (DRM) relies on a comprehensive early warning approach in which meteorological information is integrated with hydrological, geological, and environmental analysis for comprehensive early warning that can inform preparedness and response by DRM agencies. As one possible way of meeting this need, Mr. Kalonga suggested the strengthening of existing national disaster committees and potential formation of technical multi-sectoral standing task forces that could be activated upon the early development of storm systems in the Indian Ocean. Additionally, Mr. Kalonga indicated that early warning messages can only be effective at the community level when the communities have already been sensitized to DRR through awareness and training, like simulation exercises that teach communities how to respond in a disaster situation.

In closing, participants converged on the need to initiate discussions on how climate and DRR communities can contribute to closing the identified gaps in the forecasting/early warning/disaster-response interface. The idea for a follow-up webinar exploring this was mooted.

The webinar was moderated by Dr. Tamuka Magadzire, FEWS NET regional scientist for southern Africa, with technical assistance from Ms. Juliet Way-Henthorne and Dr. Greg Husak from UCSB CHC.


The available abstracts for the presentations are provided below:

Presenter: Dr. Chris Funk

Title: Combining satellite rainfall observations with weather model predictions to produce integrated monitoring products

Abstract: In practice, there is a gap between weather observations and weather model predictions. While weather models often have high levels of skill, especially at approximately one-week time scales, it can be hard to combine this source of information with observations. Such combinations, however, can be very useful in disaster prediction and response. For example, when soils and saturated models predict heavy rains, floods may be a serious concern. Or when a poor start to the growing season is combined with a prediction of mid-season drought, we might be able to provide early warning of crop failures. Here, we describe a new set of bias-corrected precipitation forecasts (the CHIRPS-GEFS). We also show how these bias-corrected forecasts can be combined with observations to produce the Climate Hazard Center Early Estimates. Examples from southern and eastern Africa are provided.

Presenter: Mr. Clement Kalonga

Title: Information needs of Disaster Risk Reduction Agencies related to extreme precipitation and potential flooding

Abstract: The critical importance of early warning information to disaster risk management (DRM) cannot be overemphasized. Practically, there is very little effectiveness in DRM options in the absence of early warning information. Early warning information is not an end; rather is a critical input in the wider DRM system. This means the quality of DRM actions are highly dependent on the quality of early warning information in terms of clarity, accuracy, and timeliness, among other factors. Two critical aspects are key in this debate: namely, the conceptual understanding and application of early warning and inherent challenges in DRM systems that reduce impacts of early warning information. What constitutes early warning has often been narrowed to the dissemination of warning messages. For instance, consider communication-related to cyclone activity. This has limited handling of such information to climate scientists. However, early warning in its broadest sense should encompass risk awareness linked to emerging potential hazards triangulated with past, existing, and future risk information and vulnerability, effective monitoring and development of scenario-based warning messages, dissemination of warning with the inputs of the key stakeholders in the projected impact areas, and coordination of response options at various scales including at community level. Such inclusive stakeholder engagement improves quality of early warning information: for instance, a hydrologist can provide support with the projected impact of forecast precipitation in the area, thereby adding value to the cyclone warning for better preparedness and response. However, regardless of the quality of early warning information, most DRM systems in SADC Member States are weak. With inherently weak DRM systems, early warning impact will remain limited or negligible. Most communities have not done any risk and vulnerability mapping, to the extent that being told that a cyclone is coming their way does not mean anything in terms of what appropriate actions can be taken.

Recordings of the webinar can be found on the Climate Hazards Center YouTube account: