SA Weather Service develops storm surge tech to better prep for disaster management

Debris and destroyed buildings which stood in the path of Cyclone Idai can be seen in this aerial photograph over the Praia Nova neighbourhood in Beira on April 1, 2019. Picture: Guillem Sartorio / AFP

The South African Weather Service’s (SAWS) Marine Unit, which focuses on marine weather, have developed wave, storm surge, and tidal forecast models for South Africa’s coast, to predict how storms will impact regions in the country, they explained in a recent statement released.

This comes in light of Mozambique being hit by two virtually back-to-back tropical cyclones, cyclone Idai and cyclone Kenneth, which have both had devastating results on the region. Idai left over 1,000 people dead, and is now deemed the most costly tropical cyclone to hit the South-West Indian Ocean. Current costs are estimated at US$1 billion.

Tropical cyclone Kenneth has left 38 dead in Mozambique, but there are fears that Kenneth will result in twice as much rain as Idai and death tolls are expected to surge.

The cyclones resulted in storm surges, which meant abnormally high sea levels and coastal inundation, the SAWS Marine Unit explained.

Abnormal changes in coastal levels as a result of tropical cyclones and storm surges in neighbouring countries results in coastal inundation in South Africa, Dr Christo Rautenbach explained in an interview with SABC News.

In addition to the surges, waves fanned by strong winds and torrential rains caused rivers to burst their banks.

SAWS Marine Unit explains that developing a high-resolution storm surge forecast system is essential even though South Africa does not get hit by cyclones. However, there have been devastating storms along the country’s coastal regions in the past, which is why it is essential to monitor them.

The unit also said it can extend storm surge prediction systems to neighbouring countries, but that work needs to be done to validate their outputs along the long coastlines of Africa.

In addition, marine meteorological information would need to be communicated through disaster management structures in order to help neighbouring countries better prepare for storms and severe waves.

Compiled by Nica Schreuder / The Citizen