International support for Haiti’s meteorological services proved critical to minimize hurricane impact
Geneva - The international support for meteorological services in Haiti has proved to be a success story emerging from the devastation of last year’s earthquake. The weather forecasting system will play a major role in helping reduce disasters in one of the world’s most vulnerable nations, as evidenced by the accurate and timely early warnings which helped limit the impact from Hurricane Tomas.
But much more needs to be done to ensure that the success is sustainable. The World Meteorological Organization says that an additional US$ 10 million is needed to strengthen Haiti’s National Meteorological Centre (CNM) in the medium term as part of a wider effort to help the country cope with recurrent threats of hurricanes and other meteorological hazards and the impacts of climate change.
Before the earthquake, Haiti’s meteorological service was already severely constrained by lack of capacity and equipment. One year on, that has started to change, thanks to strong support from a coalition of WMO Members including Canada, Cuba, Dominican Republic, France, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.
This external support has enabled the establishment of a constantly updated website www.meteo-haiti.gouv.ht to provide and disseminate weather information and forecasts to the local and international community. There is a coordinated effort to extend the lead time and improve the reliability of weather forecasts and warnings, including on flash floods, and to train forecasters.
“This is an exemplary model of cooperation between WMO and its Members,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud. “The fruits of this cooperation were realized when accurate and timely warnings about the path and strength of Hurricane Tomas last November enabled the government and international humanitarian community to mobilize disaster preparedness operations and thereby protect lives. This is in contrast with high death tolls from hurricanes in previous years.”
Haiti suffered significant losses in 2008 from four major hurricanes, Fay, Gustav, Hanna, and Ike, which killed nearly 800 people. In 2004 Hurricane Jeanne’s heavy rains caused massive flooding and landslides which killed more than 3000 people and affected about 300 000.
“The involvement of the National Meteorological Centre in the government’s contingency planning will strengthen Haiti’s disaster risk reduction strategy and help ensure that reconstruction is sustainable. This is particularly important in view of the impact of climate change on the Caribbean and the need for climate adaptation strategies,” said Mr. Jarraud.
Haiti is highly vulnerable to the impacts of meteorological, hydrological and climate related hazards such as tropical cyclones and flash floods, exacerbated by massive deforestation. The country annually experiences two rainy seasons, from April to June and from October to November, as well as a hurricane season from early June until the end of November.
Along with other Caribbean nations, it is affected by climate change. The WMO/UNEP Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fourth Assessment report in 2007 showed there has been a marked decrease in average rainfall over the part of the Caribbean occupied by Haiti since the 1950s. Sea-level rise associated with global warming is expected to increase risks of inundation, storm surges, erosion and other coastal hazards. There have also been substantial increases in intensity and duration of tropical cyclones since the 1970s.
Before the earthquake, Haiti’s National Meteorological Centre had very limited operational monitoring and forecasting capacity and resources. There were only two weather forecasters to cover daily operations and real time meteorological observations were few. Lack of reliable telecommunications severely limited Haiti’s ability to disseminate early warnings and forecasts.
One year on, achievements include the following:
- Installation of a satellite ground station which serves as the telecommunications link for the installation of the Emergency Managers Weather Information Network provided by the United States of America and the WMO Global Telecommunication System connection.
- A network of seven automated weather stations is being installed at secure locations across Haiti.
- To improve the accuracy and lead-time of forecasts and warnings for both weather and flash floods, specialized numerical model-based forecasting products and Flash Flood Guidance map-based products are centrally collected and posted at an “Extranet,” operated by Météo-France.
- A visiting “forecaster programme” with skilled personnel provides 24/7 assistance to forecasting staff at CNM Haiti. A roster of six forecasters from the Meteorological Service of Canada and the UK Met Office worked during the 2010 Hurricane season on a rotation basis with Météo-France forecasters in Martinique, dedicated to supporting forecasting for Haiti. Currently, following the end of the 2010 Hurricane Season in the Caribbean, one forecaster from UK has continued to work in Martinique to support forecasting and warnings for Haiti. The US National Hurricane Centre in Miami provides critical data for the country and the region.
- The Flash Flood Guidance System is now available to forecasters and hands-on training has been conducted in Martinique with support from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service and the Hydrology Research Centre and Météo-France.
- Internet access has been pre-paid for three hurricane seasons.
- The public website www.meteo-haiti.gouv.ht became fully operational and publicly accessible in June 2010. The site was created and operated by Environment Canada in conjunction with Météo-France. The website carries information provided by Haiti’s CNM on weather warnings, alerts, marine weather bulletins, five-day weather outlooks for major cities of Haïti and makes available real-time satellite imagery. The website typically receives around 590 daily hits in fair weather. This peaked at more than 3,000 ‘hits’ on 4 November as Hurricane Tomas impacted.
- Through the WMO fellowship programme with funding provided by Météo-France, five forecasters from Haiti are undergoing intensive training at the Ecole Nationale de Météorologie in Toulouse, France, and are expected to return to Haiti by June 2011.
“But the success of the last year will be short-lived if the NMS capacities are not further developed,” explained Mr. Jarraud. “Much of what allows Haiti to provide these services come through the daily assistance from other countries. A sustainable service will require further investments in modernization of CNM.”
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