Unusual weather: can it be predicted? | Culture and way of life in Germany and Europe DW

In March, India recorded the highest temperatures in 122 years. Unusually hot weather was also in Pakistan. Added to this was the drought, with both countries having 60% less rainfall than normal. And then the downpour hit – with all the devastating force.

In April, the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal was hit by severe flooding. Houses, bridges, infrastructure were destroyed.

How were things in Europe? Here, temperatures sometimes also reach historically highs. “It’s not normal,” said Simonetta Keli, director of Earth observation programs and head of the field center at the European Space Agency.

Extreme weather events will be more frequent

Every three years, the European Space Agency organizes the largest conference in the world, the Living Planet Symposium (LPS). In 2022, Bonn became the site of the latter at the end of May. More than 4000 participants. Hundreds of meetings and events dedicated to Earth observation from space, and one of the most discussed topics was the use of satellite observations to predict abnormal weather.

“Satellites are a great help in forecasting the weather,” says Kelly. In 1977, the European Space Agency launched the first meteorological satellite in Europe – Meteosat. This significantly improved the quality of meteorological forecasts. However, unusual weather is a completely different matter. Here, too, it is necessary to provide even more detailed data collection, and this requires new generation weather satellites. After all, as the experience of recent years shows, abnormal weather phenomena occur more and more often: hurricanes, heavy rainfall, high temperatures, drought.

Is It Possible To Predict Bad Weather With 100 Percent Accuracy?

Huge floods swept through Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands in the summer of 2021. In Germany alone, the death toll has risen to more than 100, with hundreds still missing. As a result of the heavy rains during the night, many rivers and reservoirs overflowed their banks, turning the roads into streams that swept away cars and destroyed houses in their path. Cyclone Bernd, which struck Germany from 13 to 18 July 2021, hit the federal states of North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate the hardest. In addition, serious disasters were reported in Bavaria and Saxony.

“As far as I know, heavy rains were predictable and that was the forecast,” Philip Evans, a participant in the LPS Bonn conference and CEO of EUMETSAT, the European Satellite Meteorological Agency, told DW. A few days before the flood, there were alerts from the European Flood Awareness System (EFAS). The information went further along the chain – and on the night of July 15, a clear distress signal came from the environmental department of the federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate. “However, there are some challenges,” says Evans. “It’s not just about the weather forecast. It’s important to give this forecast to the people who really need it, the first to respond to the field. And they have to decide what actions to take.”

It is at this point, after the terrible catastrophe of the summer of 2021, that political and public debates continued for a long time. What did not work in the notification system? Looking back, one can see the general background of these discussions: there was no clear idea of ​​the magnitude of the disaster, of who is responsible for what. Risk management requires the maximum concentration of all efforts, the experts concluded.

Why are meteorological satellites so important?

The weather reports for the day have already become a daily routine for us, which is also a pleasure. If in fact the weather is worse than expected, we get upset. At the same time, few people know how much work is really behind a weather forecast, even if it is not very accurate.

“Weather forecasting is an extremely underrated science,” Evans said. Even a small change in weather can have a huge impact on the weather over the next three, four, five days. How many parameters are taken into account in the weather forecast! Humidity, temperature, wind speed and so on. And finally, all this data is collected not only by meteorological satellites, but also by aircraft, ships, buoys and ground stations.

Weather satellites are the ones that are able to provide the most accurate data.

And yet, satellites occupy a special place in all this diversity: they provide data on deserts, oceans and rainforests. Thanks to this coverage, it is possible to achieve the most accurate prediction with minimal errors. Since 1977, Europe has had its own meteorological satellite observing the Earth from a distance of 36,000 kilometers. “Just for the weather forecast, it’s very important to understand what is happening in all layers of the atmosphere right now,” says Evans. This data is the basis of the forecast. That is why observing the Earth from above plays such an important role.

Can we trust the weather forecast?

How reliable is the weather forecast for the weekend or next week? “The most common models are two weeks ahead. That’s the maximum,” says Philip Evans. A more realistic forecast is 10 days ahead. With each passing day, the accuracy of the prediction decreases.

But if we make comparisons, then the weather forecast for next week is now as accurate as ever, 30 years ago, the forecast for the next day was accurate. A 24-hour forecast is 90 percent accurate, with a three-day forecast the accuracy drops to 75 percent. When it comes to abnormal weather, it all depends on the species. “A tropical hurricane, which we often see in the United States, can be predicted with fairly high accuracy,” Evans said. What can not be said about tornadoes in the US or storms in Europe. They are extremely difficult to predict. “Only 6 to 12 hours,” Evans explains. For this, the Nowcasting system is used more often – weather forecast at the moment, but using old data.

From November 2022, three new generation satellites, MTG 3rd Generation, will go into orbit. They need to improve the accuracy of data collection. And for the first time, it will be possible to detect the entire storm cycle. This is one of the main tasks – to improve the accuracy of forecasts for strong winds. Philip Evans is convinced that the new generation of meteorological satellites will be able to achieve significant success in predicting anomalous phenomena: “It may sound a little pathetic, but the 3rd generation MTG satellite will help save lives.”

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