Meteorology and Development
How specialized Private Weather Companies are helping National Meteorological Services in Developing Countries.

The World Economic Forum celebrated in Davos earlier this year, reminds us of the importance of weather and climate in the context of economy. Rough estimations account that, in well developed economies, at least a quarter of the national economy is directly influenced by climate, either at risk from adverse weather and climate, or able to benefit from equable conditions. The ability to anticipate weather conditions in different time scales (several hours, several days, one or weeks ahead) but also to detect likely climate trends (next season, interannual climate variability, climate change projections) is key to operational and strategic decisions for a very significant part of the economy.

A recent article published in Forbes describes how in well developed countries a symbiotic relationship between Public Weather Agencies (also called National Meteorological and Hydrological Agencies) and Private Meteorology companies has been created for addressing the growing demand of weather related information. This symbiotic relationship is also known as the Weather Enterprise and the annual growing rate of this specific business sector can be estimated around 10-15%, according to another study the US National Weather Service (NWS).

In Less Developed Countries (LDC) weather sensitivity, defined as the variability of the GDP that can be attributed to climate variability is by far higher compared with well developed countries. One recent report by United Nations stress that in Developing Countries one single climate extreme event like a Tropical storm, can account for more than 100% of GDP, specifically in the case of Small Islands, taking several years to recover.

In LDC local economies are much more dependent on natural resources and very specifically water and agriculture, and therefore more vulnerable to climate impacts. So, it’s evident that the positive impact of collaboration between public agencies and private meteorological companies is of paramount importance for addressing the many challenges those countries are facing.

On one side, Meteorological Agencies in developing countries need to invest in modern Observation Networks, including weather stations, radar and other related equipment. On the other side, they also need to improve their capabilities to perform Numerical Modelling activity data for weather forecasts, seasonally that are essential for anticipating weather and climate phenomena.

Multilateral banks and other International donors have identified this need and are taking important efforts for modernizing and empowering National Meteorological Agencies. The World Bank Group as well as The United Nations Development Program have specific programs in place for attending this need.

The nature of these projects can be distinguished in two major categories project assessment and project revisions pertaining to the success of project scopes. The first type or category is Assessment projects that consists of conducting initial reviews, gap analysis and diagnostic studies for understanding the current level of the capabilities of the Meteorological Agencies. To some degree, these reviews or assessments are similar to an audit, because their purpose is to identify the current situation in several technical aspects (monitoring systems, modeling capabilities, applications and product generation) and define an improvement plan for the following years. The second type are just the improvement or modernizing projects through the implementation of new technologies and systems. In this post we are going to focus on the first type of projects, and we will dig more in detail in the second type in another post.

The process of conducting an initial review or a technological assessment in a National Meteorological Agency requires a team of experts with different skills such as:

  • Project management
  • The audit / review methodology
  • Stakeholder analysis of public environmental and DRR agencies /p>
  • Installation and Maintenance of Observation equipment
  • Communications and ITC, including HPC systems
  • Modeling experts of several timescales and disciplines including:
    • Numerical Weather Forecasting
    • Seasonal climate prediction
    • Hydrological forecasting
    • Ocean forecasting
    • Climate projections
  • Web development and Product delivery service
  • Business plan and Project finance

To begin this process is to build a team, the second task is an extensive detailed plan of all processes to minimize or avoid disruptions in the normal operations of the Meteorological Agency. It’s highly recommended to prepare checklists and specific requests of all the items that need to be gathered. Together with officers of Meteorological agencies, is very important to broaden the scope of reach while conducting meetings and interviews with other related public stakeholders and end users such as Emergency & Civil Protection offices and Environmental and Water Agencies.

As far as personal meetings and interviews it’s highly recommendable that the actual experts are participating in the meetings. Sometimes, for cost reasons, only local experts are mobilized in these tasks and the results won’t be optimal.

The whole assessment process (preparations, meetings and action plan presentation) can take between 4 and 6 months and normally involve one or more international companies together with at least one local company, integrating all that applies with several meteorological specialized companies to have on board all the required skills.

The final product of these reviews or assessments is normally an Action plan with specific strategies, estimation of budget and output of such. More than solely an action plan, it serves as a Roadmap that should be presented and validated by all the relevant stakeholders at the National level. In the case of developing countries, one of the most important components of this Roadmap has to do with capacity building and technological transfer activities.

During the last years, Meteosim, as an international consulting company expert in meteorological modelling has been participating in several projects related with Assessments and Gap analysis in National Meteorological Agencies in different Regions, including Africa, South America, Central America, Middle East and Asia. In our participation in these projects, in addition to our contribution of technical knowledge on the aspects of meteorological and climate modelling and product generation, including early warning systems, we have developed internal skills to enhance the capacity building aspects and technology transfer capabilities that are essential for empowering LDCs experts and maintaining technological improvements over time.