New training course for weather forecasters in Southeast Africa

Posted November 23rd, 2020

By Vicky Lucas, Training & Development Manager at the IEA

 

“This training will contribute to forecasters’ understanding of these devastating events and to which communities they should be sending warnings. Humanitarian organisations will be better informed about where to target anticipatory action”

– Dr Nick Klingaman

Just as the tropical cyclone season is beginning in the Southern Hemisphere, the IEA is today launching online training targeted for weather forecasters of Southeast Africa and the Southwest Indian Ocean.

The first tropical cyclone of this season, Alicia, generated over the warm waters of the Southwest Indian Ocean earlier this month, downgraded to a tropical storm a couple of days later. Several of these storms can form during the Southern Hemisphere’s summer, and while many remain over the ocean, on average 3-4 make landfall on African islands and continental landmass. For example, Cyclone Idai, in March 2019, affected 3 million people and caused catastrophic damage as it made landfall in Mozambique with off-shore winds speeds of up to 195 km/h. It is the second deadliest tropical cyclone on record.

Forecasting tropical cyclones is a significant challenge so specific training to update on the latest research developments contributes to and enhances the existing knowledge and experience of operational forecasters. With the combined expertise in weather modelling, climate drivers and delivering technical training, the IEA are ideally placed to assist with turning research outputs into engaging learning activities for forecasters and forecast users.

Accessible, high-quality training despite pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic ruled out plans to deliver face-to-face training courses on the results of new analysis of recent cyclones in the Southwest Indian Ocean (the PICSEA project) by Dr Rebecca Emerton, Dr Nick Klingaman, Dr Kevin Hodges, Prof Pier Luigi Vidale of the National Centre for Atmospheric Science at the University of Reading and Dr Liz Stephens of the University of Reading. Instead the IEA worked with them to develop a multimedia online training course for operational forecasters in Mozambique, Madagascar, Seychelles and at the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre.

From socially-distanced video interviews, to appealing animations and a fascinating podcast with four world-leading experts, learning activities were created from the fundamental research and collated into one website for simple and engaging access. The variety of formats and tailoring have been selected with the learners in mind and it includes a quiz for self-assessment. The activities are mostly brief, so busy forecasters working shifts can dip in and out of the materials as time allows, with the online course continually available. Content is provided in English, Portuguese and French.

Weather Research at the University of Reading

Dr Emerton studied the tropical cyclones of the Southwest Indian Ocean of the last decade, investigating how operational computer modelling had advanced over that time. The results of this work provide useful guidance to the forecasters regularly interpreting model outputs, giving a better understanding of the uncertainty in the projected track of a cyclone and the likely impacts of severe winds and rainfall. The studies included the effects of the Madden-Julian Oscillation – areas of enhanced and suppressed tropical rainfall which can encourage or discourage the development of tropical cyclones.

When Cyclone Idai caused catastrophic floods and landslides in Mozambique in March last year, followed just weeks later by Cyclone Kenneth, Dr Emerton was able to apply the research to provide real-time flood warnings to help local authorities and humanitarian organisations make informed decisions on deploying aid to those most in need.

Dr Klingaman said: “Tropical cyclones are a serious threat to southeast Africa, with impacts regularly experienced in this little-studied region. This training will contribute to forecasters’ understanding of these devastating events and to which communities they should be sending warnings. Humanitarian organisations will be better informed about where to target anticipatory action.”

Training for weather forecasters worldwide

Colin McKinnon, CEO of the IEA, said: “This is another example of the IEA working effortlessly across the world, using our expertise to deliver tailored insights and capacity-building on weather and climate, contributing to regional resilience.”

The training for weather forecasters is a free and open resource for all, appealing to tropical meteorologists and engaged forecast users, especially those dealing with the impacts of tropical cyclones.

Training page: https://www.the-iea.org/picsea/

The training course was commissioned by PICSEA, which is funded by UKRI SHEAR and the research was carried out by the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) at the University of Reading. The PICSEA partners are the national meteorological centres of Mozambique, Madagascar and Seychelles and the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre and was support by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) and the Met Office.

To find out how the IEA can create and deliver bespoke training for your products email Vicky Lucas.

Dr Rebecca Emerton stands in front of a video wall to discuss her research on tropical cyclones. The video wall is filled with a satellite image of southern Africa and the Indian Ocean
Dr Rebecca Emerton, whose research into tropical cyclones is the basis of the new online training course for weather forecasters in Southeast Africa.
The heading 'Tropical cyclones in the Southwest Indian Ocean' introduces the landing page for the new online training course. There are 9 blocks that link to each of the 9 modules
The PICSEA online training course features 9 modules and includes videos, animations, audio and mapping of tropical cyclones https://www.the-iea.org/picsea/
A satellite image of a tropical cyclone, a dense swirl of thick white cloud through the edges of which you can glimpse green land and dark blue sea
This footage from NASA shows the typical formation of a tropical cyclone.