Darkened Skies and Clouded Data
Load shedding, an issue all too familiar to South Africans, is now throwing a wrench into the gears of the South African Weather Service (SAWS). With power outages surging and battery backup systems faltering, SAWS finds itself in the eye of a storm, battling to gather crucial meteorological data.
When Weather Stations Go Dark
MPs were alerted to the problem during a detailed presentation on the SAWS annual report for the 2022/23 fiscal year. While many performance targets were met, a critical issue emerged concerning the state of SAWS’ infrastructure and the accuracy of its data systems.
“Our automatic weather stations, especially their sensors, have been rendered ineffective by load shedding,” explained SAWS CEO, Ishaam Abader. These stations, critical in monitoring climate change, found themselves silenced by outages. Even the communication lines between SAWS offices and these stations, often routed through telecom giants like Vodacom or MTN, faced the brunt of the crisis.
Turning to the Sun for Answers
Faced with these challenges, SAWS is now looking skyward – not just for weather, but for solutions. Abader revealed plans to harness solar power for their stations and invest in LTE modems to ensure uninterrupted data transmission.
But the challenges don’t end there. Equipment that monitors greenhouse gases, the backbone in the fight against climate change, is faltering as extended load shedding drains backup power systems. Additionally, power surges post load shedding wreak havoc, damaging both vintage and state-of-the-art equipment, resulting in significant revenue losses for SAWS.
The Assurance and The Concern
Abader, attempting to allay fears, stated, “While we’ve faced setbacks, our commitment remains unwavering. We’re still here, predicting and preparing.” He emphasized SAWS’ multifaceted approach, noting, “Even if radars falter, tools like satellites remain at our disposal.”
Yet, experts like Professor Liesl Dyson from the University of Pretoria have reservations. Dyson asserts that while satellites offer a macro view, radars dive deep, detecting nuances critical to issuing precise storm warnings. “Losing radar insight, especially in an age of climate unpredictability, is a blow to both our present safety and future research,” she said.
The Global Perspective
The World Weather Attribution, a global weather monitoring body, reinforces Dyson’s concern. Their stance? Reliable, consistent weather data is paramount. “To truly understand climate intricacies, consistent data is our lifeline. Without it, our grasp on climate dynamics weakens,” the organization noted.
A Forecast of Uncertainty
South Africa’s power woes are now transcending beyond mere inconvenience, impacting critical services that rely on consistent power. The ability to accurately predict weather patterns and provide essential warnings is under threat, with implications for both immediate safety and long-term research into climate change. As the nation battles the dual challenges of an energy crisis and climate unpredictability, the importance of reliable weather data has never been more pronounced.