Leeds researchers working to mitigate repeat of Idai devastation

The University of Leeds is leading a major international collaboration to improve weather forecasting across Africa.

Professor Douglas Parker, from the School of Earth and Environment, is part of a team that will work with the Met Office and several African forecast agencies to develop new computer models and new satellite methods that will improve the accuracy of forecasts.

“Understanding and forecasting severe weather events is one of the hardest tasks that forecasters face” said Professor Parker.

“Storms such as Cyclone Idai are the result of fundamental physics happening in the atmosphere above the tropics, and that science contains many uncertainties” he added.

A better system for forecasting and communicating severe weather events in Africa would mean being able to anticipate the events in a way that the public as well as disaster relief organisations can be put on rapid alert.

“Forecasters in Africa are being asked to do one of the toughest jobs in forecasting, but they often lack the techniques and computing capacity to deliver timely and effective forecasts to the right audiences.

“A general distrust of weather forecasts may mean that individuals or organisations do not react to warnings. We are working to build confidence between forecasters and users, by working with local meteorologists, and the people who may need to take action” said Professor Parker.

The collaboration is part of African Science for Weather Information and Forecasting Techniques (African SWIFT), a £7.9 million project funded through the Global Challenges Research Fund (part of the UK aid budget).

The project started in 2017 and is bringing together 25 UK scientists and 45 academics from Africa to undertake fundamental research into tropical weather systems, and the way the public can be alerted to protect themselves if a severe event is predicted.

Professor Parker said: “Timely and accurate weather forecasts have the potential to save many lives in Africa, and to protect property.

“Computer models and satellite data are available which can provide useful warnings from hours to days ahead of an event. But accurate forecasts are only going to help people if they are communicated effectively, to people and groups with the capacity to take action.”


Further information

The weather project, African SWIFT, involves an international collaboration including the UK Met Office, the University of Reading, CEH Wallingford and academic and meteorological organisations in four African countries: Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya.

The Global Challenges Research Fund comprises £1.5 billion of UK aid money.