Observation networks encompass the monitoring stations, weather buoys, and other devices that collect and transmit meteorological information. The data on weather and climate patterns that these networks provide is invaluable for planning in the agriculture, food security, health, water resources, and marine safety sectors of Southern Africa.
At present, observation networks throughout the SADC region operate on a national basis through each Member State’s national meteorological service. In line with its mission of Regional Integration throughout Southern Africa, SADC’s Protocol on Transport, Communications and Meteorology advocates integrating these national observation networks into a unified one.
While integration would certainly benefit the region, each individual observational network currently faces challenges that pre-empt integration. Most Member States’ national meteorological services operate at reduced capacity due to lack of funding, with observation networks that are weak, outdated, and incompatible with the current standards of the World Meteorological Organization. Therefore, prior to further advances toward the Protocol’s objectives, SADC Member States must modernise and expand their national observational networks. This process involves acquiring equipment for remote sensing and automatic weather stations, both on the surface and at higher elevations.
Strengthening the Observation Network
In 2012, SADC released its Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan, which outlines the region’s development plans and intended infrastructure projects for the next 25 years. For meteorology, the top priority is strengthening of the meteorological observation network in the SADC Region, a US $81.5 million project aimed at upgrading infrastructure for monitoring and analysis of weather and climate data, keeping the region in line with the World Meteorological Organisation’s programmes, World Weather Watch and Global Climate Observation Systems.
The observation network project will entail the following strategic interventions:
- Establishing and reviving silent rainfall and climate stations;
- Expanding the surface observation network over inland lakes and the Indian Ocean
- Increasing the number of Aircraft Meteorological Data Relay reports;
- Establishing and rehabilitating automatic weather observation stations and automatic weather stations in data-sparse areas;
- Deploying buoys over the Indian and Atlantic oceans to enhance navigation and tsunami warnings;
- Developing a Memorandum of Understanding to facilitate smooth transmission of instruments between national meteorological services and the Regional Instrument Calibration Centre;
- Training and allocating staff at the Regional Instrument Calibration Centre and at national meteorological services;
- Acquiring network weather radars in SADC Member States for monitoring real-time weather; and
- These strategies are expected to expand the capacity of national meteorological services in the region, offering improved observational data on weather and climate that enables the relevant sectors to plan accordingly for regular climate fluctuations and to mitigate the effects of climate change.