OVER Lake Victoria, one of the largest bodies of fresh water on the planet, the weather can be treacherous. More than 4000 people drown in this east African lake every year as storms overwhelm their boats.
“There are 285 days of lightning a year in [the nearby Ugandan city of] Kampala – just one day without lightning every week,” says Frank Annor, field director of the. “Really, really crazy.”
“There are 285 days of lightning a year in the city of Kampala – just one day without it in a week”
In January, Annor will launch a weather forecasting project to try and reduce the death toll. The system will send weather forecasts and storm warnings via SMS to local residents in Uganda, where the project will be launched.
“These storms really come out of nowhere and the boats aren’t great,” says Nick van de Giesen, who also works on TAHMO.
Alongside a number of partners, TAHMO has installed 100 cheap weather stations around Lake Victoria.by a small solar panel, and records rainfall, temperature, sunshine, humidity, pressure, and wind speed and direction.
They use the cell network to send a report to a central server every 5 minutes, or more frequently when the weather is changing. There, the data is gathered, processed and combined with satellite data to build a forecast. If TAHMO sees a storm coming, it sends out free SMS warnings to anyone who has signed up. The system uses SMS because while almost, .
With its sensors, TAHMO hopes to be able to give Lake Victoria’s residents three days’ warning of severe storms, as well as more real-time information as weather rolls through the region. The network will start test forecasting in January, and be fully up and running by April, says Annor.
If the project is successful, TAHMO aims to extend its hyperlocalbeyond Uganda. The non-profit already has clusters of weather stations running in Ghana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Kenya. In the US, TAHMO’s partner Earth Networks has a programme called which feeds data from cheap sensors to home thermostats, letting houses adjust their temperature in tune with incoming weather.
Ultimately, Annor and van de Giesen want to kick-start a market for accurate weather prediction in sub-Saharan Africa. Until now, many countries have been plagued by poor weather data, often relying on information gathered by hand.
It’s a struggle, says Annor, as the existing manual approach has left a public perception that weather predictions aren’t reliable. But it’s worth it. “There are people who need this information, but because of poverty they can’t afford it,” he says. “People’s lives could change for the better if they are given some knowledge about the weather.”
(Image: Frederic Courbet/Panos)
This article appeared in print under the headline “Storm warning”
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