Hi-tech radar network lands in SA

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Minister of water and environmental affairs, Buyelwa Sonjica, unveiled the South African Weather Service's (SAWS) weather radar network this week, consisting of 12 new Doppler weather radars. This will see the more accurate prediction of and warnings about severe weather.

According to SAWS, government has granted R240 million for infrastructure investment to upgrade and replace its over 30-year-old radar systems. “This is to bring about a substantially improved weather observation network that meets contemporary needs,” the organisation says.

It adds its infrastructure network includes automatic weather stations, automatic rainfall stations, a lightning detection network, computer infrastructure, satellite receiving equipment and weather radars.

A SAWS statement says the investment demonstrates SAWS and government's commitment to using the best technology available to mitigate or avert natural disasters. This includes evacuating threatened communities to safe areas before severe storms associated with climate change and unpredictable weather patterns strike, it adds.

The project was rolled out in 2009 and so far three radars are operational; in Irene, Mthatha and Bethlehem, says SAWS. Two of the new radar systems will be deployed at the OR Tambo and Cape Town International Airport in April, and seven will be set up across the country from now until April 2010.

Sonjica says SA has a good reason for the investment made in this project. “We cannot afford to be left out of the scientific progress that will assist our communities in the long-term, especially with the major concerns of climate change now upon us.”

She adds that government must ensure the weather service remains at the cutting edge of meteorological technological development, to improve accuracy and to remain relevant for the benefit of the entire population.

Enhanced adaptation

The new weather radars will play a vital role in enhancing adaptation tools and products such as the Severe Weather Forecast project and the Flash Flood Guidance System, which minimise loss of life and damage to property in events of severe weather.

Sonjica says the new radar system will ensure complete coverage of neighbouring countries such as Lesotho and Swaziland. This will also cover countries frequented by tropical cyclones, such as the south-eastern parts of Botswana, southern Mozambique and the south-west Indian Ocean.

According to SAWS, the Air Traffic and Navigation Services Africa, Airports Company South Africa, and the Air Force will have access to raw data from the Doppler weather radars and the interpreted information will be disseminated to the agriculture, construction and other sectors.

Currently, the South African weather radar network consists of 12 radars located across the country. The network has been used extensively in the past in various weather predictions, storm identification and aviation applications.

Although useful, the existing radars lack Doppler capabilities. With the introduction of Doppler radars, the movement of storms can also be detected, providing better now-casting during severe storms. SAWS says the old system faced problems such as interference in frequencies and was outdated, reducing service delivery.

The unveiling took place in Pretoria as part of SAWS' celebration of 150 years of organised meteorology in South Africa.

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