‘Ig­nore weather warn­ings at your peril’

Lesotho Times - - Big Interview -

WITH the heavy snow­falls and hail­storms ex­pe­ri­enced around the coun­try over the last week­end, the weather has be­come an is­sue of con­cern ahead of the 3 June 2017 Na­tional Assem­bly elec­tion.

This is more so in Le­sotho’s high­lands re­gions in which high snow­falls ren­dered many roads im­pass­able leav­ing some peo­ple and an­i­mals trapped in snow in Mokhot­long and Mphosong.

The se­vere weather con­di­tions prompted the last minute can­cel­la­tion of a joint cam­paign rally by four op­po­si­tion par­ties in Prime Min­is­ter Pakalitha Mosisili’s strong­hold of Tsoe­like con­stituency in Qacha’s Nek last Satur­day.

This was af­ter the op­po­si­tion par­ties, All Ba­sotho Con­ven­tion, Al­liance of Democrats Ba­sotho Na­tional Party and Re­formed Congress of Le­sotho agreed to field one can­di­date in the con­stituency in a bid to oust the pre­mier in next month’s poll.

Po­lit­i­cal par­ties had or­gan­ised cam­paign ral­lies de­spite a warn­ing by the Le­sotho Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal Ser­vices (LMS) of the se­vere weather con­di­tions last week. In this in­ter­view, Le­sotho Times (LT) re­porter, Lekhetho Nt­sukun­yane, speaks with LMS Me­te­o­rol­o­gist, Kuroane Phakoe, about the sig­nif­i­cance of weather fore­casts, the ef­fec­tive­ness of the de­part­ment’s dis­sem­i­na­tion of in­for­ma­tion to the gen­eral pub­lic and how the se­vere weather con­di­tions may af­fect next month’s elec­tion.

LT: What is the role of the LMS?

Phakoe: Our main man­date is to is­sue weather fore­casts. We do this by pre­de­ter­min­ing weather con­di­tions. When se­vere weather con­di­tions are ex­pected, we is­sue ad­vance warn­ings. In cases where the weather con­di­tions re­sult in the dam­age of prop­erty and other se­vere con­se­quences, an as­sess­ment is con­ducted by the Dis­as­ter Man­age­ment Author­ity (DMA). The DMA’S role is to iden­tify ar­eas af­fected by the se­vere weather con­di­tions. LT: In the event that you fore­cast se­vere weather con­di­tions, what steps do you take to en­sure the in­for­ma­tion is well dis­sem­i­nated to the gen­eral pub­lic? Phakoe: We nor­mally is­sue press state­ments. You will re­alise that on a daily ba­sis we dis­sem­i­nate weather fore­casts through the na­tional tele­vi­sion and other meth­ods of com­mu­ni­ca­tion like emails. But on top of the or­di­nary every-day fore­cast, we is­sue warn­ings on the same plat­forms when se­vere weather con­di­tions are ex­pected.

We then also is­sue press state­ments which are com­pre­hen­sive about the weather con­di­tions. The stan­dard we use is such that the warn­ing will be ac­com­pa­nied by an ad­vi­sory mes­sage. We can­not just warn the peo­ple with­out giv­ing them ad­vice on how to avoid se­vere con­se­quences.

LT: Apart from the DMA, what are the other gov­ern­ment de­part­ments you work closely with in your op­er­a­tions as the LMS and how?

Phakoe: We also work hand-in-hand with the Min­istry of Water Af­fairs. The min­istry is re­spon­si­ble for the mon­i­tor­ing of rivers flows, among other roles. The min­istry’s au­thor­i­ties are bet­ter placed to iden­tify com­mu­ni­ties re­sid­ing along the river­sides and which could eas­ily be af­fected by large water flows or floods.

So we make them aware of the se­vere con­di­tions that come with heavy rains. These kinds of weather con­di­tions also af­fect peo­ple liv­ing down­stream. We don’t only is­sue warn­ings and ad­vice per­tain­ing to the heavy rains and snow­fall but we also do that dur­ing heat waves. And be­cause heat waves in­duce some ail­ments, it means we also in­volve the Min­istry of Health.

LT: In cases of se­vere weather con­di­tions, how long does it take for you to make that de­ter­mi­na­tion and warn the pub­lic?

Phakoe: The law pre­scribes two to three days for the gen­eral se­vere weather con­di­tions. We call this the lead time dur­ing which we can is­sue pre­cau­tions for the peo­ple to pre­pare them­selves. How­ever, there are other in­stances where we can only is­sue a warn­ing to the pub­lic in few hours. Such in­stances in­clude flash floods.

Flash floods are prompt and nor­mally hap­pen in a cer­tain small area with­out re­ally get­ting to an ex­tent of af­fect­ing other lo­ca­tions. Flash floods are com­mon with heavy rains that don’t take long but the re­sults are very se­vere.

They are char­ac­terised with heavy pre­cip­i­ta­tion from a sin­gle cell of clouds. Un­for­tu­nately, we can­not eas­ily de­ter­mine flash floods in ad­vance be­cause of the char­ac­ter­is­tics I have just men­tioned. We can only de­ter­mine and warn the pub­lic a few hours be­fore they hap­pen.

LT: What are other con­se­quences em­anate from se­vere weather con­di­tions?

Phakoe: The most se­vere re­sult is the loss of lives. From there, we have dam­age of prop­er­ties and killing of an­i­mals as well as var­i­ous ail­ments.

LT: We are in the mid­dle of elec­tion cam­paign pe­riod, with polling day set for 3 June 2017. The re­cent se­vere weather con­di­tions caused some po­lit­i­cal par­ties to can­cel their cam­paigns and also af­fected prepa­ra­tions for the elec­tion. What role can the LMS play to en­sure the elec­tion is not de­railed by ad­verse weather con­di­tions?

Phakoe: Ac­tu­ally, we have three kinds of weather fore­casts. The first one is the short range fore­cast which takes one to three days. This is con­sid­ered the most ac­cu­rate fore­cast. Within these three days, we are able to fore­cast the weather con­di­tions for each of the three days ac­cu­rately. We then have medium range fore­cast which cov­ers three days to seven days. The last one is the long range fore­cast which takes from one month to three months.

The long range fore­cast is also re­garded as a sea­sonal fore­cast which is of­ten help­ful to farm­ers in plan­ning for cul­ti­va­tion. But like I in­di­cated, the most ac­cu­rate is the short range fore­cast. This is why even af­ter we have dis­sem­i­nated the in­for­ma­tion on the medium range and long range fore­casts, we still con­tinue to up­date them through the use of short range fore­casts.

It is there­fore not easy for us to de­ter­mine ac­cu­rately what the weather con­di­tions will be like dur­ing the 3 June elec­tion day. But at least two weeks prior to the elec­tions day we can be able to de­ter­mine that. The at­mos­phere is very chaotic; it keeps chang­ing time and again.

But un­like in sum­mer, the weather doesn’t re­ally change dras­ti­cally dur­ing win­ter. Hence the fore­cast is much eas­ier con­ducted in win­ters than in the sum­mers.

LT: What gen­eral ad­vice can you give to Ba­sotho per­tain­ing to se­vere weather con­di­tions?

Phakoe: As the Le­sotho Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal Ser­vices, we can only ad­vise peo­ple to keep lis­ten­ing to their ra­dios be­cause that’s the plat­form we of­ten use to dis­sem­i­nate in­for­ma­tion eas­ily and to a large pop­u­la­tion at a time. Ra­dios are mostly ac­ces­si­ble to Ba­sotho even for those liv­ing in the re­motest lo­ca­tions in the coun­try.

We still use news­pa­pers and other me­dia plat­forms but we of­ten find ra­dio to be the quick­est and most ac­ces­si­ble way to dis­sem­i­nate the in­for­ma­tion. We also use so­cial me­dia to dis­sem­i­nate the in­for­ma­tion, par­tic­u­larly What­sapp.

LMS Me­te­o­rol­o­gist Kuroane Phakoe.

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