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New weather app offers life-saving forecasts for Africa

A mobile phone app has been launched in Kenya to help people avoid the damage and loss caused by tropical storms. 

The app has been developed by scientists at the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, and University of Leeds, working in partnership with the Kenya Meteorological Department.

The free-to-use app, known as FASTA, will allow users to access a picture of current storm activity in their area and see where the extreme weather is heading. 

The app draws on the techniques of nowcasting, which enables meteorologists to provide accurate forecasts of storm weather that is developing over the next couple of hours.  

People are able to see real-time maps of storm weather on their phones by downloading the app from the Google Play Store

Across much of Africa, intense rainfall events are damaging to agriculture and can be especially devastating for smallholder farmers. 

In severe cases, storms can also lead to fatalities, such as on Lake Victoria where thousands of fishers drown every year when their boats capsize in heavy weather. 

Storms can also disrupt critical transport routes.  

Intense rainfall events are predicted to increase in frequency due to climate change, heightening the threat to African communities.

Storm weather difficult to model 

Extreme weather in the Great Lakes region is difficult to predict and model. 

Although nowcasting has been widely used in the US, Europe, and Asia, much of Africa does not have coverage from rainfall radar that nowcasting systems rely upon. Instead, scientists are now able to predict the behaviour of storms using satellite data. 

With information from the app, users will be able to make livelihood and life-saving decisions in the face of impending extreme weather. 

“Recent projects have shown how short-term warnings sent by the national weather services can save hundreds of lives a year on Lake Victoria. The FASTA app will put this kind of information in the hands of the users, for the first time.”

Doug Parker, Professor of Meteorology at National Centre for Atmospheric Science and University of Leeds

FASTA users can also be alerted of any storms predicted to reach their location.  

Bernard Chanzu, Deputy Director at Kenya Meteorological Department and leader of Forecasting Services, said: “Through our collaboration with FASTA, The Kenya Meteorological Department will be able to bring accurate real-time weather information to users in a mobile app for the first time.”

The app is the culmination of research carried out by scientists involved in the GCRF African SWIFT project to develop techniques for better and more accurate forecasting of severe weather in the Great Lakes region of Africa.

FASTA makes use of the information from satellite data provided by EUMETSAT, the European operational satellite agency for monitoring weather, climate, and the environment from space. The nowcasting products were developed by EUMETSAT’s Nowcasting Satellite Applications Facility.

For the first few months following the launch, the app will be in an open testing phase to gather feedback for users and inform any further development of the service. 

Although the app is initially being launched in Kenya, the FASTA team are hoping to collaborate with national weather services across other African countries in the future.