Opinion: The danger in ignoring NIMET forecast

by Okey Ikechukwu


We note, for the record, that the School of Oceanography in Lagos was gobbled up by the very ocean it was established to study. There is information form NIMET that explains why the progressive mischief of the Bar Beach is the way it is and such information should be accessed by serious minded individuals and stakeholders.

But for the desperate intervention of some stakeholders who quickly educated an ignorant Minister of Aviation, the Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NIMET) would have been decreed out of existence ‘with immediate effect’. Forthwith, Nigeria would also have gone down in history as the first nation on earth to do such a thing. That was during the era of military rule. We have gone beyond all that now and Nigerian farmers, environmentalists, nature protectors and other stakeholders should see the need to educate whoever falls within their purview about the value, role and relevance of meteorological data. It affects plant harvest, defines and warns about expected rainfall, unusual weather patterns, such as El-Nino phenomena – visibility and storm incidence for air navigation and much more

We live in a world where even the best ‘weather men’ in Europe and the US are at their wit’s end. Global weather and climatic patterns have become both unstable, less predictable and purveyors of sundry disasters and calamities. Storm cycles have shortened by decades. The ice at the Poles are melting at over 50 times the originally projected rates. Animal migration is in disarray, as habitats are disappearing by the hour. Rising global temperatures have disrupted the traditional wind patterns. The earth’s natural balance of gases no longer exists and low pressure cells are created in sections and regions of the globe where they were usually unheard of. The result is a world completely at the mercy of forces generated and nurtured by its reckless inhabitants.

That is why the pronouncements of NIMET should be treated with greater seriousness than has hitherto been the case. The world of today is such that the agency thas more than a handful, as it battles to be heard in an environment where short term economic calculations strive to drown any calls for sanity or rationality. We note, for instance, the over 90% of the human and material losses incurred during the flood of last year here in Nigeria could have been avoided if the relevant persons, institutions and communities had taken NIMET’s repeated warnings seriously.

Beyond floods, it is a fact of contemporary modern living that the two major causes of aviation accidents in modern times are weather and pilot error. While we can claim, with some measure of implied arrogance, that the flying machine has acquired such sophistication that it can almost be described as having been perfected, we cannot say the same for the weather. Therefore an organisation with the capacity for reliable predictive information about changes in the weather is an invaluable life-saving platform. It is crucial for air transport safely and has great impact of national economies, especially as it affects agriculture.

We note, for the record, that the School of Oceanography in Lagos was gobbled up by the very ocean it was established to study. There is information form NIMET that explains why the progressive mischief of the Bar Beach is the way it is and such information should be accessed by serious minded individuals and stakeholders. Today NIMET is building a National Weather Forecasting and Climate Research Centre (NWFCRC) in Abuja. The centre is conceived as an all-embracing weather and climate information platform, where all operational information on weather, climate data and products and services offered by NIMET would be accessed. This centre is expected to play roles similar to the role played by similar meteorological institutions, like the National Centre for Environment Prediction (NCEP) in the US and the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecast (ECMWF) Reading  in the UK .

If it is true that the centre will have a TV Weather Studio for the recording and dissemination of public weather forecasts, then all eyes should be on NIMET. The various Operational Desks, such as Numerical Weather Prediction desk, Agro Meteorological desk, Aeronautical Meteorology desk, Marine Meteorology desk, Hydrometeorology desk, Climate Information desk and Public Weather desk should have more than enough for everyone. Behind all of this will be a meteorological library, World Meteorological Organisation Global Telecommunications Services ( GTS ) equipment for meteorological data communication and the ground receiving equipment for satellite derived meteorological information and imageries would also be located at the centre. The point being made here is that businesses can draw useful data and ensure greater investment security by the mere existence of this facility, among other advantages.

The Automated Weather Observing System (AWOS) installed in Minna, SADIS and Low-Level Wind Shear Alert System (LLWAS) installed in Kaduna Airport should enhance the safety of these airports. This may all sound like big English, but the truth about aviation safety is that wind shear is a hazardous meteorological phenomenon that must be known about in order to minimise its likely harm. This is caused by sudden changes in the wind speed and/or direction over a short distance and/or short period of time. The changes may either be in the horizontal or vertical direction in the atmosphere. No pilot can foresee or manage this without help. And since wind variability is a perennial and unavoidable phenomenon in the atmosphere, the reasonable thing to do is seek how to minimise its negative effects. The danger posed by this phenomenon is particularly less readily manageable when it occurs at lower altitudes.

That is why Low Level Wind Shear is therefore recognised as a potential hazard to the aircraft, especially during landing and take-off.
The introduction of Doppler Weather Radar (DWR) systems, for instance says more than is obvious at first sight. This is a very sophisticated weather monitoring equipment that can detect, track, monitor, and cross-gauge convective systems. This includes severe storms, microburst, line squalls, wind shear, thunderstorms etc. Among other things, it can detect the location, severity, speed and direction of any convective systems; complete with information on potential danger and the likely forms of expected damage. It will tell you about rain drops in the atmosphere and give reliable information about size, growth rate, speed of propagation, possibility of precipitation and intensity of the precipitations resulting from them. The more interesting thing here is that NIMET was able to get a DWR produced for Nigeria, on special request, to have the capacity to monitor the incidence, development and propagation of dust plumes that can also affect flight operations in the country.

Because a DWR has the capacity to detect and track a weather system as far as 400 to 800 kilometres away, it offers untold benefits to all sectors of our national life. To begin with, it scans the atmosphere continuously. This enables it to provide weather information every 120mseconds. Thus it can give any weather forecaster the ability to update the public almost every minute. Add this to NIMETs’ procurement and installation of Upper Air Sounding Equipment. Progressively the aim is to ensure that infrastructure is used to limit avoidable disasters, so that human error must be seen for what it is. Today the agency has put in place a technique used for measuring meteorological wind speed and direction, temperature, dew point, humidity, pressure detection system at different flight levels. This is the Upper Air Sounding Equipment at Lagos and Maiduguri. These forecasts guide pilots in choosing the safest flight paths.

There is now also the on-going procurement and installation of thunderstorm detectors at various airports. Whereas only Abuja and Lagos airports had thunderstorm detectors today we have them in Enugu, Ibadan, Kaduna, Kano, Owerri and Yola. Each of these systems can detect intensity and location of thunderstorm within a radius of 50 kilometres from the airport.
While the agency is doing all this, it also has its eyes on international best practices and standards. It underwent a quality management system audit process in compliance with International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) requirement. This earned it the ISO 9001:2008 certification in aeronautical services. It also made it the first meteorological agency in West Africa to be so certified. With that, this is the first time Nigeria will have such certification. Fair enough! In 2011, it was only the Abuja airport that had the Low Level Shear Alert System (LLWAS), but the equipment has now been installed in eight other airports. Ther is now the LLWAS in Kano, Port Harcourt, Ikeja, Benin, Enugu, Owerri, Yola and Sokoto.

The Integrated Aviation Weather Observation and Display System (AWODS) provides a range of real-time weather observation data around runways. This system includes data communications, data and report processing systems developed specially for aviation use, graphical weather displays, digital display panels and chart recorders.  The weather information generated is used by pilots during the critical stages of landing and take-off.
Yes, NIMET’s services now meet all known international standards; but research and improvements must continue. The agency’s focus on mainstreaming weather and climate into policy formulation at all levels of planning and execution will encourage all stakeholders to take weather and climate change services very seriously.

By the way, the agency recently warned about a moderate to major outbreak of dust from Niger Republic. They say that this would reduce horizontal visibility significantly in Nigeria as the dry season sets in. With that, pilots, motorists and rail transporters are urged to be mindful of the effect of dust particles, caused by the dry season, in the air. The relatively strong, dry and dusty wind from the desert is expected to become prevalent in the south as the dry season progresses; leading to early morning and late evening mist/fog. This is also expected to lead to an increase in respiratory diseases. Persons with respiratory tract problems and such health conditions as asthma, meningitis and bronchitis should take extra care, as their condition may suffer some aggravation.



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