Gathering weather data to provide early warning on climate

Gathering weather data to provide early warning on climate

07/04/2015

Crop and livestock activities are extremely sensitive to climate and weather conditions. In South Sudan, over 90 percent of agricultural and livestock production depends on rainfall – which in turn determines food security. Early warning on climactic hazards is key to equipping farming communities and policy-makers with the knowledge they need to improve production, as well as food security programming, across the country.

FAO is supporting the relevant government institutions to enhance the collection, analysis and reporting of agrometeorological information in South Sudan in order to produce a stream of basic data such as precipitation, temperature and wind speed. Food production this year is particularly critical to tackle food insecurity for the millions of South Sudanese in IPC Phases 2, 3 and 4, including 2.5 million people in IPC Emergency and Crisis phases.

In South Sudan, FAO has:

  • Mapped 89 meteorological stations
  • Installed 35 new rain gauges
  • Rehabilitated 5 of 9 existing automatic weather stations
  • Trained dozens of government focal persons on data collection and equipment maintenance

Local food production is increasingly important as markets have been severely disrupted by economic shocks and insecurity. Early warning on rainfall anomalies is critical to inform timely livelihood support and resilience programming, as well as food assistance targeting.

Moreover, advance knowledge and close monitoring of weather conditions is vital in guiding agricultural planning and operations, such as land preparation, pest management, and selection of crop varieties and livestock practices appropriate for local conditions. “We need to understand what is going on in our environment. Without collecting data, we cannot understand the changes that are ongoing. For instance, how do you know the temperature has risen?” said FAO South Sudan agrometeorology expert James Guma.

Tracking temperatures and rainfall patterns helps predict severe climactic events that can have a profound impact on how well crops grow, on what types of crops should be planted, and when. “When you have the data, you can make an informed decision. You make a good plan,” said James.

Over the past year, FAO has been systematically identifying and categorizing existing meteorological equipment in South Sudan; rehabilitating existing equipment; and installing new rain gauge equipment. So far, FAO has identified 89 meteorological stations in the seven non-conflict states. The Organization has also installed 35 new rain gauges to collect rainfall. Dozens of local government focal persons have been trained to take regular readings and send the data to the national meteorological office.

In February and March 2015, FAO also rehabilitated five out of nine historic automatic weather stations in the country. The solar-powered stations track precipitation, temperature, wind direction and speed, air pressure, humidity and other factors. Data feeds automatically into an online database, updated every hour. The information is accessible to the selected government focal persons and to the national Meteorological Department.

In late February, FAO South Sudan and Government of South Sudan representatives from the Department of Meteorology attended the Greater Horn of Africa Climate Outlook Forum to agree on climate projections for the East Africa region for the next three months. The key projections for South Sudan were that most of the country should receive a normal amount of rainfall during March to May 2015, in line with historic averages.

However, the projections came with a caveat: because there is little meteorological data for South Sudan, the projections are not as reliable as they could be. What data is available is being used to inform agricultural master plans, investment plans and incorporate the findings into project designs. More work is needed to provide South Sudan with the meteorological information it needs to make informed decisions that impact on the food security of millions of people.

Agrometeorology is a component of a larger FAO programme –  Agriculture and Food Information Systems for Decision Support, funded by the European Union and the Australian Government, and running from 2013 through to 2015.