Tag Archives: Meteorology

Saving lives via mobile phone weather warnings

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE As extreme weather events become more common because of climate change, the mobile phone is increasingly being recognised as an important tool for warnings that can not only save lives – but also, in Brazil, the coffee crop. SAO PAULO, 19 June – Over the last few years, violent storms, leading to flooding and mudslides, have become more frequent in Brazil.   In 2011, violent rainstorms wreaked havoc in and around Rio. Houses built on steep hillsides were swept away by devastating mudslides. An entire shantytown built on top of a former rubbish dump in Niteroi collapsed, killing over 50 inhabitants. In Novo Friburgo, a mountainous town settled by 265 Swiss families in 1820, and the surrounding region, over 1000 people died in January 2011, after several days of violent rains. Sirens had sounded to warn people to evacuate, but many people either did not hear them, or ignored them. The permanent solution of course, would be to provide better housing in safer areas, but that is still many years away. Now a scheme successfully tried on the other side of the Atlantic is to be launched in the region. The scheme was piloted on Lake Victoria, a giant lake the size of Ireland, which is shared by three countries, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.   Five thousand die Its size makes it large enough to create its own weather, and conditions can change suddenly, with winds quickly whipping up six-foot waves capable of capsizing ferries and fishing boats.  Up to five thousand of the Lake’s estimated 200,000 fishermen were dying every year due to these freak storms. The African scheme is a joint initiative between the UK’s Met Office, the Ugandan Department of Meteorology, and the telecommunications company Ericsson. Text messages are sent to the mobile phones of local fishermen, warning them of changes in the weather. Before, there were no forecasting services relevant to fishermen in the region, making access to weather information almost impossible. To capture more accurate information about the local weather conditions, the Met Office set up a 4 km resolution weather forecast model over Lake Victoria. Tom Butcher, External Relations Manager at the Met Office explained:  “A lot of the weather patterns on the lake happen on quite a small scale and are driven by the difference in temperature between the lake’s water and the surrounding land. You get warm moist air at night, rising above the lake and sucking in colder air from over the land surface – a convective process that creates a lot of storms.”   Red means danger To get round the problem of illiteracy among the fishermen, the forecasters at Uganda`s Department of Meteorology adopted the Met Office’s traffic light system of colour-coded weather warnings. Green means winds of less than five knots and no significant weather conditions predicted, therefore a very low hazard threshold, no advice needed. Red means a high likelihood of 20 knots+ winds, or severe thunderstorms, therefore a high hazard threshold and advice to ‘take action’. The project was enthusiastically received by the fishermen and within a few weeks it was saving lives. In Rio, the scheme involves attaching rain gauges (pluviometers) to mobile phone masts to give warnings in real time of extreme weather and high rainfalls to mobile phone users with 3G, via their providers. The scheme will eventually be extended to 19 Brazilian states, with the attachment of rain gauges to 1500 masts.  Experience has shown that sirens are often ignored, or not heard, but a direct message aimed at a phone user personally is much more effective.   Four hours warning This is the first scheme to use a direct link between rain gauges and the mobile phone users.  A small-scale scheme, based on information collected via satellite and from a network of meteorological radars maintained by the administration, is already in use, under a partnership between the Rio city authorities, the Civil Defence department and four major mobile phone operators. The warnings of high rainfall are transmitted by SMS about four hours before they are due. The Civil Defence also has a special warning programme for 3,500 health agents who work in 117 risk areas. The agents, each responsible for about 100 families, are then expected to spread the warnings by word of mouth. When the rainfall tops 40mm in an hour, or 125 mm in 24 hours, then the agents receive messages telling them to evacuate people. Mobile phone weather warnings are not only being used for rainfall. It may surprise some readers, who think of Brazil only as a tropical country, to know that in the southern state of Paraná, frost alerts for the region’s coffee farmers are also being sent by SMS to mobile phones. The initiative, which began in 2012, is the result of a partnership between IAPAR, Parana’s Agricultural Institute and the state’s meteorological system, SIMEPAR. Paulo Henrique Caramori, coordinator of Iapar’s Agrometeorology department, said: “the SMS service is direct and very quick and enables the coffee growers to speed up protection measures for their trees”. – Climate News Network  

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE As extreme weather events become more common because of climate change, the mobile phone is increasingly being recognised as an important tool for warnings that can not only save lives – but also, in Brazil, the coffee crop. SAO PAULO, 19 June – Over the last few years, violent storms, leading to flooding and mudslides, have become more frequent in Brazil.   In 2011, violent rainstorms wreaked havoc in and around Rio. Houses built on steep hillsides were swept away by devastating mudslides. An entire shantytown built on top of a former rubbish dump in Niteroi collapsed, killing over 50 inhabitants. In Novo Friburgo, a mountainous town settled by 265 Swiss families in 1820, and the surrounding region, over 1000 people died in January 2011, after several days of violent rains. Sirens had sounded to warn people to evacuate, but many people either did not hear them, or ignored them. The permanent solution of course, would be to provide better housing in safer areas, but that is still many years away. Now a scheme successfully tried on the other side of the Atlantic is to be launched in the region. The scheme was piloted on Lake Victoria, a giant lake the size of Ireland, which is shared by three countries, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.   Five thousand die Its size makes it large enough to create its own weather, and conditions can change suddenly, with winds quickly whipping up six-foot waves capable of capsizing ferries and fishing boats.  Up to five thousand of the Lake’s estimated 200,000 fishermen were dying every year due to these freak storms. The African scheme is a joint initiative between the UK’s Met Office, the Ugandan Department of Meteorology, and the telecommunications company Ericsson. Text messages are sent to the mobile phones of local fishermen, warning them of changes in the weather. Before, there were no forecasting services relevant to fishermen in the region, making access to weather information almost impossible. To capture more accurate information about the local weather conditions, the Met Office set up a 4 km resolution weather forecast model over Lake Victoria. Tom Butcher, External Relations Manager at the Met Office explained:  “A lot of the weather patterns on the lake happen on quite a small scale and are driven by the difference in temperature between the lake’s water and the surrounding land. You get warm moist air at night, rising above the lake and sucking in colder air from over the land surface – a convective process that creates a lot of storms.”   Red means danger To get round the problem of illiteracy among the fishermen, the forecasters at Uganda`s Department of Meteorology adopted the Met Office’s traffic light system of colour-coded weather warnings. Green means winds of less than five knots and no significant weather conditions predicted, therefore a very low hazard threshold, no advice needed. Red means a high likelihood of 20 knots+ winds, or severe thunderstorms, therefore a high hazard threshold and advice to ‘take action’. The project was enthusiastically received by the fishermen and within a few weeks it was saving lives. In Rio, the scheme involves attaching rain gauges (pluviometers) to mobile phone masts to give warnings in real time of extreme weather and high rainfalls to mobile phone users with 3G, via their providers. The scheme will eventually be extended to 19 Brazilian states, with the attachment of rain gauges to 1500 masts.  Experience has shown that sirens are often ignored, or not heard, but a direct message aimed at a phone user personally is much more effective.   Four hours warning This is the first scheme to use a direct link between rain gauges and the mobile phone users.  A small-scale scheme, based on information collected via satellite and from a network of meteorological radars maintained by the administration, is already in use, under a partnership between the Rio city authorities, the Civil Defence department and four major mobile phone operators. The warnings of high rainfall are transmitted by SMS about four hours before they are due. The Civil Defence also has a special warning programme for 3,500 health agents who work in 117 risk areas. The agents, each responsible for about 100 families, are then expected to spread the warnings by word of mouth. When the rainfall tops 40mm in an hour, or 125 mm in 24 hours, then the agents receive messages telling them to evacuate people. Mobile phone weather warnings are not only being used for rainfall. It may surprise some readers, who think of Brazil only as a tropical country, to know that in the southern state of Paraná, frost alerts for the region’s coffee farmers are also being sent by SMS to mobile phones. The initiative, which began in 2012, is the result of a partnership between IAPAR, Parana’s Agricultural Institute and the state’s meteorological system, SIMEPAR. Paulo Henrique Caramori, coordinator of Iapar’s Agrometeorology department, said: “the SMS service is direct and very quick and enables the coffee growers to speed up protection measures for their trees”. – Climate News Network  

Book Review: Illustrated Weather Eye

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE LONDON, 12 January – In newspapers, the most illuminating articles often lurk in the most hidden of places. For years, discriminating readers of the Irish Times  would first turn to a short column at the back of the paper – squeezed alongside the tide tables, the comic strip and the daily chess puzzle – to digest the eloquent words of  ‘Weather Eye’, written by Brendan McWilliams, one of Ireland’s leading meteorologists. McWilliams, a true polymath whose interests spanned not just the weather and climate but included history, theatre and art, was possessed of  that rare gift of being able to communicate science in a way that was accessible and readily digestible to the general reader. For nearly 20 years his daily column  entertained readers with a  magical potpourri of ruminations on the weather – and a lot else besides. In 1795 French troops were advancing into the Netherlands. It was a very severe winter that year in northern Europe, with 15 Dutch ships anchored off the North Sea coast frozen solid in ice. “This, in turn, made possible a very strange victory indeed, unique in military annals: it allowed a small group of French cavalry to capture an entire Dutch fleet.” We move on to learn about lichens on gravestones. “Although they can endure the most extreme climatic conditions, they are very sensitive to any impurities in the air, and a thriving population of lichens is an indication that the local air is clean.” Then there are thoughts on the meteorological  characteristics of various months. “March”, says McWilliams, “is an adolescent month, always unsure of itself and full of bluff and bluster”, while April “can be a charlatan; one might almost say a hypocrite.” Brendan McWilliams became Deputy Director of Met Eireann in the late 1980s and a Director of the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites, EUMETSAT, in the late 1990s. He died, at the age of 63, in 2007, so robbing the Irish Times of one of its most popular columnists. Now Anne, his widow, has produced a richly illustrated book with a selection of the scientist’s writings . Too often, weather and climate are seen as enemies to be battled against and overcome. To McWilliams they are sources of endless fascination and wonder; his columns take sheer delight in the rain, wind and temperatures – and their influence on and interconnectedness with other things. We are asked to ponder whether changes in climate and a series of bad harvests contributed to the onset of the French Revolution and how “ a small but very active depression” delayed an advance by Napoleon at Waterloo, so ensuring Wellington’s victory. Then we move on to an explanation of how bees read weather, of the meteorological reasoning behind the saying “as mad as a March hare”, the skills involved in igloo building, and a suggestion that the Little Ice Age in Europe contributed to the particular qualities of the wood used in making  Stradivarius violins. There’s even a discussion about an upsurge in global volcanic activity in the early 19th century and its influence on the novels of Jane Austen.  Emma is the most meteorological of Austen’s works by far, says McWilliams, with dramatic changes in the weather matched by equally dramatic swings in emotions. Magical stuff. Illustrated Weather Eye, by Brendan McWilliams, Gill & Macmillan, 2012

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE LONDON, 12 January – In newspapers, the most illuminating articles often lurk in the most hidden of places. For years, discriminating readers of the Irish Times  would first turn to a short column at the back of the paper – squeezed alongside the tide tables, the comic strip and the daily chess puzzle – to digest the eloquent words of  ‘Weather Eye’, written by Brendan McWilliams, one of Ireland’s leading meteorologists. McWilliams, a true polymath whose interests spanned not just the weather and climate but included history, theatre and art, was possessed of  that rare gift of being able to communicate science in a way that was accessible and readily digestible to the general reader. For nearly 20 years his daily column  entertained readers with a  magical potpourri of ruminations on the weather – and a lot else besides. In 1795 French troops were advancing into the Netherlands. It was a very severe winter that year in northern Europe, with 15 Dutch ships anchored off the North Sea coast frozen solid in ice. “This, in turn, made possible a very strange victory indeed, unique in military annals: it allowed a small group of French cavalry to capture an entire Dutch fleet.” We move on to learn about lichens on gravestones. “Although they can endure the most extreme climatic conditions, they are very sensitive to any impurities in the air, and a thriving population of lichens is an indication that the local air is clean.” Then there are thoughts on the meteorological  characteristics of various months. “March”, says McWilliams, “is an adolescent month, always unsure of itself and full of bluff and bluster”, while April “can be a charlatan; one might almost say a hypocrite.” Brendan McWilliams became Deputy Director of Met Eireann in the late 1980s and a Director of the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites, EUMETSAT, in the late 1990s. He died, at the age of 63, in 2007, so robbing the Irish Times of one of its most popular columnists. Now Anne, his widow, has produced a richly illustrated book with a selection of the scientist’s writings . Too often, weather and climate are seen as enemies to be battled against and overcome. To McWilliams they are sources of endless fascination and wonder; his columns take sheer delight in the rain, wind and temperatures – and their influence on and interconnectedness with other things. We are asked to ponder whether changes in climate and a series of bad harvests contributed to the onset of the French Revolution and how “ a small but very active depression” delayed an advance by Napoleon at Waterloo, so ensuring Wellington’s victory. Then we move on to an explanation of how bees read weather, of the meteorological reasoning behind the saying “as mad as a March hare”, the skills involved in igloo building, and a suggestion that the Little Ice Age in Europe contributed to the particular qualities of the wood used in making  Stradivarius violins. There’s even a discussion about an upsurge in global volcanic activity in the early 19th century and its influence on the novels of Jane Austen.  Emma is the most meteorological of Austen’s works by far, says McWilliams, with dramatic changes in the weather matched by equally dramatic swings in emotions. Magical stuff. Illustrated Weather Eye, by Brendan McWilliams, Gill & Macmillan, 2012