Mthatha gets new weather radar system

24 August 2010

The South African Weather Service has launched a new state-of-the-art weather radar system in Mthatha in the Eastern Cape, enhancing monitoring capability in an area of the country prone to natural disasters that often go unnoticed by the general public.

According to the SA Weather Service (SAWS), its new weather radar network forms part of the government’s programme to upgrade and replace current weather radars, many of which are over 30 years old.

Weather radars are situated mostly towards the eastern parts of South Africa, where severe weather is more frequently experienced. Most of the radar systems currently deployed are remote and sometimes inaccessible.

The Mthatha radar is unique in that it is located right in the middle of the Highbury community.

“The new weather radars will play a vital role in enhancing adaptation tools and products, such as the Severe Weather Forecast project and the Flash Flood Guidance System, that minimise loss of life and damage to property in events of severe weather,” the SAWS said.

Community involvement, social responsibility

Attending the launch of the radar in Mthatha last month, Environmental Affairs Minister Buyelwa Sonjica also announced a project by the weather service to refurbish Highbury Junior Secondary School, which is situated in the Highbury community.

With the support of staff in Mthatha, East London and Port Elizabeth, as well as a subcontractor, the SA Weather Service completely refurbished the two existing classroom blocks. The service also sourced additional funding to build an additional classroom and ablution facilities, while making use of labour from the local community.

“Even though [the SA Weather Service] is in the business of meteorology, it can never be separated from its responsibilities to the nation in helping to nurture future generations,” the SAWS said.

The weather service has looked within the community as a source for security and maintenance of the radar site, leading to the creation of four sustainable jobs so far.

Identifying small scale weather systems

Weather radar systems are particularly useful for the identification of small scale weather systems that are sometimes not clearly visible from weather satellite imagery.

This sophisticated instrument senses certain weather phenomena remotely, observes cloud development and motion and can accurately measure the movement of clouds over a radius of approximately 300km.

“The position of clouds and weather is displayed on a monitor and analysis of this information assists weather forecasters to provide accurate information and weather warnings to the public,” the SAWS said. “Weather radar systems can provide now-casting information on flash floods and tornadoes.”

Radar information is captured, monitored and displayed with the information from other radars in the country, allowing for forecasters to have a full picture of cloud information over most parts of the country.

Cloud information from radars is used in conjunction with other forecast products, weather satellite imagery and measured rainfall in order to gain detailed understanding of approaching weather systems.

“Apart from forecasting, research applications are also developed from radar information to benefit agricultural studies, water resource management and the public warnings of approaching severe weather,” the SAWS said.

SAinfo reporter

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