SA to spend R240m on weather-radar revamp

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The Department of Water and Environmental Affairs is to spend R240 million with a consortium including SSI, SAAB security and aviation system and Gematronik over the next three years on 12 new Doppler radars to revamp South Africa’s aging network of weather detection and ranging.

Minister Buyelwa Sonjica says the SA Weather Service’s radars are now 30 years old and can no longer meet contemporary needs. The new weather radars will play a vital role in enhancing adaptation tools and products such as the Severe Weather Forecast project and the Flash Flood Guidance System that minimise loss of life and damage to property.
“As government and the only shareholder, we must ensure that the Weather Service remains at the cutting edge of meteorological technological development to improve accuracy and to also remain relevant in order to benefit us all,” Sonjica said yesterday.

Although useful, the existing radars lack Doppler capabilities. With the introduction of Doppler radars, the movement of storms can be better detected, “providing better now-casting during severe storms,” the state BuaNews agency reports. Sonjica added that the new radar system will also provide complete coverage of neighbouring Lesotho and Swaziland.
“The new system is world-class, superior to most of the systems utilised in other Western countries. We cannot afford to be left out of the scientific progress that will assist our communities in the long term especially with the major concerns of climate change now upon us,” she said. The system can also predict the path of a storm and issue warnings to the people in its path, Bua added. It will also detect wind movement in clear air and it can also detect the movement of dust in the air.

SAWS CEO Dr Linda Makuleni said that the new radar system would support the aviation and maritime industry in planning and “reducing long-lead times and ultimately contribute to a decrease in carbon emissions.” Project manager Georgie George told the Engineering News that the dishes are to be located across the country. Each will be able to determine the intensity of storms at 300km and detect air turbulence at 100km. Two high-resolution mobile X-band systems had already been implemented at the OR Tambo and the Cape Town International airports, to address immediate aviation needs. A further three fixed-systems had been installed at Irene, Bethlehem and Mthatha.
“SAWS aims to commission another seven radars over the next year, or one, every two months, until April 2011,” George explained.



In addition to the new radars, the SAWS infrastructure drive would also include automatic-weather stations, automatic-rainfall stations, a lightning-detection network, computer infrastructure and satellite-receiving equipment. Sonjica also stressed that the development of human capital would be an integral part of the project.