The South African Weather Services (SAWS) don’t just keep us abreast of rainy days and sunny spells. The organisation predicts and issues warnings about severe weather events – a role that’s more critical than ever as climate change takes hold.
Climatic shifts are already bringing more wild weather: at the end of April, more than 400 people died and over 40,000 were displaced after floods devastated KZN and the Eastern Cape. In January, a heatwave hit large parts of the Western Cape. Most recently, on Tuesday, the suburb of Randfontein in Gauteng was smashed by a massive hailstorm that “look[ed] like snow” and imperiled commuters’ journeys. ⛈
That’s why a rapid and ongoing loss of functional weather stations is a serious cause for concern. Meteorologist Vanetia Phakula told Business Day that between three and four out of every 10 weather stations across SA are lost each year due to negligence. These stations allow SAWS staff to assess conditions over time so they can provide accurate short, medium and long-term forecasts. Its network consists of 243 automatic weather stations, 1,050 rainfall stations, 153 automatic rainfall stations, 23 sea surface temperature stations, and 47 weather buoys in the south Atlantic Ocean and south Indian Ocean, according to Business Day’s report.
Phakula was unable to provide a definitive figure for how many stations have become defunct in the last five years. She told the newspaper that a lack of funding underpinned the problem, describing it as a “political issue” but declined to discuss whether funds were being mismanaged.
Let’s hope the crisis is taken seriously: South Africans need strong weather services infrastructure now more than ever.