Kenyans can see real-time maps of where extreme storm weather is heading, a few hours before it gets to them, on their mobile phones, thanks to a new app, Fasta (Forecasting African Storms Application).
Launched on January 31 in conjunction with the Kenya Meteorological Department (KMD), the free-to-use app will offer real-time maps of ongoing storm activity in Kenya, and will also be alert users to any storms predicted to reach their location, beforehand.
The app was developed by scientists at the University of Leeds and the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, working in partnership with the KMD.
The app draws on the techniques of nowcasting, which enables meteorologists to provide accurate forecasts of storm weather that is developing over the next couple of hours.
Intense rainfall events and their recurrence are predicted to increase in frequency due to climate change, heightening the threat to African communities. Yet nowcasting which has been widely used in the US, Europe, and Asia, has not been available in much of Africa due to a lack of coverage of rainfall radar that nowcasting systems rely upon. But scientists are now able to predict the behaviour of storms using satellite data.
Across the world, intense rainfall events can be deadly, including, in East Africa on Lake Victoria, hundreds of people drown every year when their boats capsize in severe storms.
“The app gives people advance warning of storms and heavy rain,” says Fasta director and professor of meteorology at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science and the University of Leeds, Prof Doug Parker.
“Having a few hours before the storm hits in which to act can be vital, for farmers, for markets, for those working in transport particularly water transportation and fishing, particularly in countries where the infrastructure is more vulnerable to extreme weather. So, we feel this is a really important service to provide here.”
“Recent projects have shown how short-term warnings sent by the national weather services can save hundreds of lives a year on Lake Victoria,” observed Prof Parker, “The FASTA app will put this kind of information in the hands of the users, for the first time.”
Fasta uses satellite data from the European operational satellite agency for monitoring weather, climate and the environment from space — Eumetstat which gives an excellent view of storms over Africa as they evolve. New data are available every 15 minutes.
Although the app is initially being launched in Kenya, the Fasta team is looking towork with national weather services across other African countries to extend the service to more African countries.