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South Afican Weather Service (SAWS)

 

Background

The South African Weather Service (SAWS) was established in accordance with the South African Weather Service Act (Act No 8 of 2001). Its mandate is gazetted in the act. In terms of its vision statement, the SAWS is striving “to be the foremost provider of relevant services in respect of weather, climate and related products, which contribute to sustainable development in South Africa and the African continent”.

It aims to provide useful and innovative weather, climate and related products and services by enhancing observational data and communications networks, effectively developing and managing talent in the sector, enhancing collaborative partnerships and effectively disseminating weather services products to the users, utilising cutting-edge technology to convert data into meaningful products and services for risk mitigation, advancing the science of meteorology, research and relevant applications, and enhancing fiscal discipline and resource mobilisation to ensure sustainability.

In its continued efforts to carry out its legal mandate, the work of the SAWS will, in the medium term, be guided by its five key strategic goals, which have been identified as follows: to ensure the continued relevance of meteorological products and services in compliance with all applicable regulatory frameworks, to ensure the effective management of stakeholder, partner and key client relations, to fully address the short-term viability and long-term sustainability of the organisation’s revenue and other resourcing requirements, to ensure optimised business integration and organisational effectiveness and to create strategy-driven human capital capacity for the performance of the organisation.

In support of its strategic goal of ensuring effective stakeholder, partner and key client relations, the SAWS has signed a number of MOUs with academic and science institutions, and with various other stakeholders. The organisation has also facilitated and participated in various round table meetings and workshops on climate change.

Some of the recent achievements of the SAWS in terms of carrying out its mandate include the development and implementation of various forecasting products aimed at enhancing decision-making and planning in key socioeconomic sectors, such as the South African Flash Flood Guidance System (SAFFG), the South African Regional Flood Guidance System (SARFFG) and the Severe Weather Warning System (SWWS).

The SAWS has also continued to meet its international obligations in terms of aviation and marina services and the implementation of the SADC Regional Meteorogical Development Project.

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Services

  • Core services

The South African Weather Service (SAWS) is an agency of the Department of Environmental Affairs and is governed by a board. It provides two distinct services:

  • Public good services:  (funded by government and delivered to the public free of charge) include general forecasts for the public, severe weather warnings and advisories, seasonal outlooks for farmers and the Department of Agriculture, and marine forecasts
  • Commercial services (where the user-pays principle applies).

The SAWS is the authority for weather and climate forecasting in South Africa. As a member of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), it complies with international meteorological standards. As the aviation meteorological authority, SAWS is designated by the state to provide weather services to the aviation industry and to fulfill the international obligations of the government under the Convention of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

The organisation also provides maritime weather forecasting services for the vast oceans around southern Africa up to Antarctica.

The SAWS has a very strong relationship with the Aviation Association of South Africa. It participates in regular industry meetings and serves on the Advisory Committee for Aeronautical Meteorological Services. The SAWS strives to be a world-class meteorological organisation and, as such, provides the best possible service to the aviation industry in South Africa. It regularly shares its initiatives on improving aviation meteorological services with the aviation industry. Representatives from the SAWS frequently attend industry meetings and give talks on weather and safety in flight.

  • Research and development

The SAWS is involved in research initiatives – several in collaboration with other academic and research institutes locally and internationally – to ensure that its services are improved. The organisation has the following research priority areas:

  • Early warning service: It conducts research and development (R&D) to enhance early warnings of weather hazards over all time scales.
  • Numerical weather prediction: In the light of the introduction of the new unified model for short-range forecasting, an ideal opportunity exists for the SAWS to ensure that cooperative research in the field of numerical weather prediction is focused on this particular model, its verification, improvement and the development of user-friendly products.
  • Climate change: The SAWS is interested in ways to downscale the possible effects of global climate change and to determine impacts on local scales. These impacts will be important to guide the SAWS on ways to evolve its services and the types of systems required to deliver these services.
  • Air quality, atmospheric monitoring and research: The sustained monitoring and research of atmospheric characteristics, trace gases, pollutants and aerosols that are critical to global climate change and air pollution monitoring are carried out by South Africa’s global atmosphere watch station at Cape Point.
  • Science/social impact research: The SAWS strives to align its products and services with user needs, ensuring that these needs are correctly interpreted when developing and packaging new services. It also aims to optimally include indigenous knowledge in its services.
  • Technology development: The SAWS aims to ensure that all technological developments with regard to instrumentation, new methods of observation, improved signal acquisitioning, data processing and interfacing to instrumentation are undertaken.

Research and development is actively pursued in all the above research priority areas and collaborative research with several international institutions is underway. These include cooperation with the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT) and overseas universities in the field of now-casting, joint research with the UK Meteorological Office on numerical weather prediction and the global atmosphere watch community of the WMO, the National Centre for Atmospheric Research on Airborne Studies.

University cooperation in South Africa includes projects applicable to SAWS service delivery in the above fields with the University of Cape Town (long-range forecasting), as well as with the University of Pretoria on several projects that form part of the honours degree in meteorology, in which SAWS personnel provide guidance. Research cooperation with other universities in South Africa is constantly pursued in relevant areas.

  • Skills development

Education is crucial in growing capacity and achieving sustainability in an organisation and the SAWS has long recognised the importance of investing in the development of human talent, not only to support its own growth, but also that of the environment in which it operates. It is also the aim of the organisation to broaden access to education for previously disadvantaged and academically competent learners, and to contribute to South Africa’s national goals by expanding the skills base.

As part of its social investment strategy and in an endeavour to recruit and develop talented individuals, the SAWS endows bursaries to learners in order to enable the organisation to meet its growing need for skilled scientists. Bursaries are awarded to learners to qualify as weather observers, as well as for undergraduate degrees in meteorology and atmospheric science, honours degrees in meteorology and atmospheric science, and a bridging course for BSc students without a meteorology qualification.

Training interventions in which the SAWS is currently involved include weather observer training, weather observation refresher training, forecaster training, conducting an honours course in meteorology in collaboration with the University of Pretoria, a six-month bridging course in meteorology for general BSc learners who have not studied a BSc in Meteorology, as preparation for the honours degree in Meteorology, training of weather observers based on Gough Island, Marion and Prince Edward Islands and at the South African National Antarctic Expedition base (SANAE IV) on Antarctica, and ad hoc training. 

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