‘Ignore weather warnings at your peril’

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LMS Meteorologist, Mr Kuroane Phakoe

WITH the heavy snowfalls and hailstorms experienced around the country over the last weekend, the weather has become an issue of concern ahead of the 3 June 2017 National Assembly election.

This is more so in Lesotho’s highlands regions in which high snowfalls rendered many roads impassable leaving some people and animals trapped in snow in Mokhotlong and Mphosong.

The severe weather conditions prompted the last minute cancellation of a joint campaign rally by four opposition parties in Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili’s stronghold of Tsoelike constituency in Qacha’s Nek last Saturday.

This was after the opposition parties, All Basotho Convention, Alliance of Democrats Basotho National Party and Reformed Congress of Lesotho agreed to field one candidate in the constituency in a bid to oust the premier in next month’s poll.

Political parties had organised campaign rallies despite a warning by the Lesotho Meteorological Services (LMS) of the severe weather conditions last week.

In this interview, Lesotho Times (LT) reporter, Lekhetho Ntsukunyane, speaks with LMS Meteorologist, Kuroane Phakoe, about the significance of weather forecasts, the effectiveness of the department’s dissemination of information to the general public and how the severe weather conditions may affect next month’s election.

LT: What is the role of the LMS?

Phakoe: Our main mandate is to issue weather forecasts. We do this by predetermining weather conditions. When severe weather conditions are expected, we issue advance warnings. In cases where the weather conditions result in the damage of property and other severe consequences, an assessment is conducted by the Disaster Management Authority (DMA). The DMA’s role is to identify areas affected by the severe weather conditions.

LT: In the event that you forecast severe weather conditions, what steps do you take to ensure the information is well disseminated to the general public?

Phakoe: We normally issue press statements. You will realise that on a daily basis we disseminate weather forecasts through the national television and other methods of communication like emails. But on top of the ordinary every-day forecast, we issue warnings on the same platforms when severe weather conditions are expected. We then also issue press statements which are comprehensive about the weather conditions. The standard we use is such that the warning will be accompanied by an advisory message. We cannot just warn the people without giving them advice on how to avoid severe consequences.

Phakoe: Apart from the DMA, what are the other government departments you work closely with in your operations as the LMS and how?

Phakoe: We also work hand-in-hand with the Ministry of Water Affairs. The ministry is responsible for the monitoring of rivers flows, among other roles. The ministry’s authorities are better placed to identify communities residing along the riversides and which could easily be affected by large water flows or floods. So we make them aware of the severe conditions that come with heavy rains. These kinds of weather conditions also affect people living downstream. We don’t only issue warnings and advice pertaining to the heavy rains and snowfall but we also do that during heat waves. And because heat waves induce some ailments, it means we also involve the Ministry of Health.

LT: In cases of severe weather conditions, how long does it take for you to make that determination and warn the public?

Phakoe: The law prescribes two to three days for the general severe weather conditions. We call this the lead time during which we can issue precautions for the people to prepare themselves. However, there are other instances where we can only issue a warning to the public in few hours. Such instances include flash floods. Flash floods are prompt and normally happen in a certain small area without really getting to an extent of affecting other locations. Flash floods are common with heavy rains that don’t take long but the results are very severe. They are characterised with heavy precipitation from a single cell of clouds.  Unfortunately, we cannot easily determine flash floods in advance because of the characteristics I have just mentioned. We can only determine and warn the public a few hours before they happen.

LT: What are other consequences emanate from severe weather conditions?

Phakoe: The most severe result is the loss of lives. From there, we have damage of properties and killing of animals as well as various ailments.

LT: We are in the middle of election campaign period, with polling day day set for 3 June 2017. The recent severe weather conditions caused some political parties to cancel their campaigns and also affected preparations for the election. What role can the LMS play to ensure the election is not derailed by adverse weather conditions?

Phakoe: Actually, we have three kinds of weather forecasts. The first one is the short range forecast which takes one to three days. This is considered the most accurate forecast. Within these three days, we are able to forecast the weather conditions for each of the three days accurately. We then have medium range forecast which covers three days to seven days. The last one is the long range forecast which takes from one month to three months. The long range forecast is also regarded as a seasonal forecast which is often helpful to farmers in planning for cultivation. But like I indicated, the most accurate is the short range forecast. This is why even after we have disseminated the information on the medium range and long range forecasts, we still continue to update them through the use of short range forecasts. It is therefore not easy for us to determine accurately what the weather conditions will be like during the 3 June election day. But at least two weeks prior to the elections day we can be able to determine that. The atmosphere is very chaotic; it keeps changing time and again. But unlike in summer, the weather doesn’t really change drastically during winter. Hence the forecast is much easier conducted in winters than in the summers.

LT: What general advice can you give to Basotho pertaining to severe weather conditions?

Phakoe: As the Lesotho Meteorological Services, we can only advise people to keep listening to their radios because that’s the platform we often use to disseminate information easily and to a large population at a time. Radios are mostly accessible to Basotho even for those living in the remotest locations in the country. We still use newspapers and other media platforms but we often find radio to be the quickest and most accessible way to disseminate the information. We also use social media to disseminate the information, particularly WhatsApp.

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