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Pollution & HealthDigital Innovation Harnesses Power of Real-time Weather Data

Digital Innovation Harnesses Power of Real-time Weather Data

Digital Innovation Harnesses Power of Real-time Weather Data

Amanda Grossi and Francesco Fiondella
|February 6, 2023

This story is customized from one originally published by Accelerating Impacts of CGIAR Climate Research for Africa (AICCRA).

National meteorological services play a central role of their country’s efforts to anticipate and manage climate-related risks, and to develop effective policies for resilience and adaptation.

Automatic weather stations comparable to this one in Togo make essential measurements of rainfall, temperature, and other parameters in near real-time. But national meteorological services must give you the option to efficiently integrate this flood of data into their database with a purpose to be of use to decision makers.

The true-time monitoring of floods, droughts and other climate hazards—as well the assorted climate and weather forecasts the national meteorological services provide—help agencies make critical decisions about agriculture, public health, energy, transportation, and other fundamental components of society.

Nonetheless, these operations require vast amounts of reliable and timely climate and weather data. That is something that, historically, many African countries have lacked.

Recent initiatives backed by the UN Development Program, the World Bank and other international partners have worked to extend the provision and quality of climate data on the continent, particularly by investing in networks of automated weather stations. These stations demand far less human involvement than traditional ones, which require staff visits to gather data — multiple times a day in some cases. Automated stations can take measurements every quarter-hour and robotically transmit the information to a meteorological office. They can be arrange in places where continuous weather data has been tougher to gather, comparable to in distant rural communities.

This higher-resolution data creates more robust historical climate datasets that ultimately result in improved climate predictions and forecasts for a rustic.

In the case of responding to—and mitigating—climate emergencies, having these real-time data networks could make all of the difference.

A latest data challenge

The rapid expansion of automated weather-monitoring networks is addressing critical data gaps across Africa. But they’ve also created a latest problem, one brought on by an absence of coordination amongst the assorted initiatives, programs, and donors who’ve funded the constructing of those networks.

The result’s that a given country could have many forms of automated networks, each built by a distinct company, and every requiring different parts and processes to take care of and repair.

Also, these firms don’t format and store their automated weather station data in the identical way — some use proprietary formats. So while automated stations do provide national meteorological services with loads of critical weather data (good), the various networks can’t ‘talk’ to one another. If a national meteorological service cannot efficiently mix, synchronize, and analyze its datasets, then a big amount of information will likely be unnoticed of decision making.

Scaling a transformative solution

Scientists at Columbia Climate School’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) saw this challenge and the frustration it was causing amongst its many national met service partners. In response, they developed the Automatic Weather Station Data Tool (ADT). And because of support from the projects Accelerating Impact of CGIAR Climate Research for Africa (AICCRA) and Adapting Agriculture to Climate Today, for Tomorrow (ACToday), which held technical trainings and workshops, use of the brand new tool has increased significantly amongst African national meteorological services.

The Automatic Weather Station Data Tool is a free web-based application with an easy-to-use graphic interface that allows users from national meteorological services to access, process, perform quality control, and visualize data from different automated networks in a single place. It also enables real-time monitoring of stations to see which of them are working and which of them are offline to more easily understand where the information is coming from and address any interruptions in transmission sooner. ADT emerged from the broader climate services delivered under the Enhancing National Climate Services (ENACTS) initiative, which recognized that the provision of high-quality climate data doesn’t robotically translate to ease of access or effective use.

map showing different color markers for stations on different networks

The ADT web interface for Kenya, showing seven different networks of automatic weather stations.

In lower than a yr, IRI has trained dozens of staff from the national meteorological services in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, and Zambia to make use of ADT to assist synchronize their data streams. Mali’s meteorological service is hoping to receive similar trainings within the near future.

In Kenya, where the national meteorological department has faced considerable challenges trying to administer seven different automatic weather station networks, the tool has greatly simplified the evaluation and viewing of weather data.

“The information visualization capabilities of ADT will go a great distance in supporting our mandate of providing quality and timely climate information to the users. Its ability to aggregate different data types is a game changer,” said Onesmus Ruirie, principal meteorologist on the Kenya Meteorological Department.

“The information visualization capabilities of ADT will go a great distance in supporting our mandate of providing quality and timely climate information to the users. Its ability to aggregate different data types is a game changer.” — Onesmus Ruirie, Kenya Meteorological Department

The functionality to aggregate data at hourly, every day, 10-day, and monthly intervals has many meteorological staff excited, especially when complemented by the flexibility to display and download maps, graphs, and tables of this data for reports or advisories for decision makers.

IRI is a key partner within the AICCRA project, whose theory of change states that if national meteorological agencies can efficiently aggregate, analyze, and visualize climate data using state-of-the-art practices and tools, then relevant national institutions and stakeholders can higher monitor, prepare and reply to climate-driven disasters in additional timely and effective fashion. These same stakeholders can even inform long-term national strategies for adapting to climate change with more robust evidence.

Regional climate centers comparable to East Africa’s IGAD Climate Prediction and Applications Centre (ICPAC) have also recognized the role ADT can play in helping the met services develop improved climate services. ICPAC is passionate about raising awareness concerning the tool and constructing capability for its use within the region. Along with Ethiopia and Kenya, IGAD member states include Djibouti, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, and Uganda.

“[ADT’s] capability to process data from automatic weather stations, its visualization functionalities, and its provision of a unified database for the various networks makes it a robust tool for managing data for East Africa,” said Herbert Misiani, a knowledge management expert at ICPAC.

ICPAC, one other essential AICCRA partner, has also helped the project scale other critical and in-demand IRI innovations in climate services to support the agricultural sector.


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