Almost one year ago a severe mudslide devastated the community around Oso, in Washington State, making news headlines in my home region of the Pacific Northwest and across the country. In Uganda, deadly landslides happen every year as deforested mountainous regions experience heavy seasonal rainfall. These landslides leave hundreds dead and thousands homeless. Flooding, lightning strikes, landslides, severe droughts, and tsunamis are all examples of the power of nature, and a reminder of the importance of emergency preparedness and response.
When I headed back to graduate school 2 years ago and begin to work with TAHMO, the Trans African Hydro-Meteorological Observatory, I delved into the world of weather and climate. Weather information had never been on the forefront of my motivation to study Water Resource Engineering; its routine role in my daily check for a “rain pants addition” was taken for granted. As I learned about the dearth of weather data across sub-Saharan Africa, a region particularly vulnerable to climate change, I began to see the many uses these data play for weather nowcasting and forecasting, contributing both to useful information on ‘how to dress in the morning’ as well as critical knowledge of pending hydrological and meteorological hazards due to severe weather. Through the generosity of OSU’s Humanitarian Engineering program, I embarked on a trip to East Africa to gather first-hand experience with the climate issues faced and the need for weather data.
During my first weeks in Kenya, I was fortunate enough to attend two conferences focusing on weather and climate information, early warning systems, and climate adaptation. In early March, I joined as the UN’s CIRDA program convened representatives from 11 of the least developed countries in Africa in Kampala, Uganda. We discussed the role of partnerships between private companies, NGOs, and the academic sector in enabling better collection and application of climate data. TAHMO was presented as an opportunity for national meteorological agencies to collect low-cost automatic weather data while educating the next generation of meteorologists, hydrologists, and climate scientists. I learned about the challenges different countries face in implementing weather and climate related programs; from lack of infrastructure and sensor equipment to the inadequacy of political mandates which promote such work. Despite the challenges, each country had detailed plans to install weather stations, employ SMS and other communication alerting systems, and improve local capacity for weather data analysis through trainings and education.
As a contrast to CIRDA’s country-focused approach, I also attended a workshop in Nairobi hosted by the UN’s Clim-WARN project. This science based group shared tools and resources available to integrate into a multi-hazard global early warning system. Clim-WARN’s thorough assessment of both men and women in rural and urban settings of Ghana, Burkina Faso, and Kenya to better understand the best methods of communication and hazard-related vulnerabilities experienced by different target groups was a backdrop to the conversation on application of tools and resources. Finally, a key take-away reminded me of my King Elementary School days when we crouched in lines along the hallways during tornado or hurricane drills: educating stakeholders of actionable responses to early warning information is a key to ensuring the effectiveness of these systems.
Reflecting on the discussions had and information I learned about EWS and climate adaptation, I am more convinced than ever about the importance of weather data and it’s far reaching utility. I’m excited to work these ideas into my conversations with students and teachers when talking about “why should we install a weather station?”