Alerting vulnerable communities to extreme weather

Scientists have been awarded £2 million to develop ways of alerting communities in South Africa, Zambia, and Mozambique to extreme weather. The project, a collaboration between researchers at the University of Leeds and the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, will focus on providing effective warnings to vulnerable communities that are more likely to be impacted by extreme weather. This includes people living in informal settlements close to rivers and those with disabilities who require early warnings to protect themselves and their property.

Severe storms in Southern Africa pose a risk to hundreds of thousands of people every year. In 2022, it was estimated that over 15,000 people were affected by floods in Zambia, and in April of the same year, more than 400 people were killed by floods in Durban, South Africa. Furthermore, around 200,000 families were displaced during Mozambique's last rain season. Intense rainfall events are expected to increase in the coming years due to climate change.

The project is part of the Met Office's Weather and Climate Information Services programme and is commissioned by the UK's Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. The research team will develop ways of providing short-term weather forecasts up to forty-eight hours ahead and will ensure that the forecasts are tailored for people in cities who need them most. The team will also use nowcasting, a process whereby real-time satellite images over Africa are used to predict weather conditions over the next six hours, to set up short-term weather alerts that can be distributed via text, voice messages, and smartphone applications. The project builds on other initiatives in East Africa, such as the development of the FASTA app providing individuals with real-time weather information on their mobile phones, and the AFRICAN Swift four-year research partnership, which identified ways to better model the behavior of storms over the continent.

Main article image: © University of Leeds