By Epa Ndahimana, AFMC/NECJOGHA
Weather forecasting is the use of science and technical know-how to envisage the conditions of the atmosphere for certain time and locality. This majorly to ensure protection of life, property and business interests.
Timely and accurate forecasts are crucial to facilitate decision making in farming, fishing and pastoralism activities. In everyday life, forecasts help in the planning for daily activities and early warning for possible extreme weather events. Due to the crucial role played by forecasts, countries spend a lot to ensure that forecasts are conducted and reach the public. For instance, according to the Journal of Hydrometeorology, the United States of America spent $5.1 billion on weather forecasting in 2009.
One important aspect of weather forecasts is unpredictability. Hence, forecasts usually come in probabilities meaning that they are not 100% accurate. However, among other factors, the density of weather stations that collect data from the atmosphere affects the degree of accuracy of the forecasts.
In addition, the inaccuracy of forecasts can be attributed to chaotic landscape of the atmosphere, the immense computational supremacy needed to define the atmosphere, error existence in measuring initial atmospheric conditions , and the unknown on some aspects of the atmospheric processes. For instance, accuracy of Uganda’s forecast from The 51st Greater Horn of Africa Climate Outlook Forum for March April May (MAM) rainfall season was greatly affected by Cyclone Idai and Cyclone Kenneth.
However, one of the most important factors is distribution of weather stations per location of prediction. Uganda lacks a balance of weather stations to provide sufficient data for modeling and finally determining the weather and climate of a given area.
Julius Kiprop, who is the country manager of the HIGHWAY project under the Uganda National Meteorological Authority (UNMA) said at a climate café in Jinja recently that in 1960 there were 1000 weather observation stations in Uganda but today the country has less than 200 weather observation stations, few of which are operational.
According to a survey carried out by WIMEA-ICT project, there are 39 weather stations that are managed by UNMA. And out of these 39 weather stations, only 29 are functional because 10 have either been vandalized or lack power connection and hence nonfunctional. With such few and uneven distribution of weather stations, the accuracy of Uganda’s weather forecasts is left wanting.
The findings of the WIMEA-ICT Project survey indicate challenges ranging from insufficient human resources to manage the weather stations, lack of transmission airtime to central UNMA information processing unit, data guessing from some stations by attendants and insufficient number of stations in the country most especially in the parts of North Eastern Uganda. The entire geographical distribution of weather stations is far from reaching the representative level for the whole country.
Apart from weather stations, latest radar, satellite and observational data allows better analysis of the small-scale features present and can predict with accuracy, the weather of a given place even in the shortest time ahead.
It is therefore paramount that among other efforts to improve the production and delivery of timely weather and climate information for decision making in Uganda, weather observations stations should not be disregarded.