Better weather forecasting and warnings save lives and property – Insights from Moldova

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Weather radar at Chisinau International Airport (source: POPs Sustainable Management Office)

“WEATHER ALERT! AFTER THE HEAT, STORMS AND HAIL WILL COME”

Moldovans received this yellow-level alert from the authorities, and through various media sources, around lunchtime on September 3, 2019, which gave them about 6 hours to ensure they were in a safe place when the storm hit.

Where did this warning come from?

It came from Moldova’s State Hydrometeorological Service, which is responsible for monitoring and forecasting the weather and helping to protect people by providing warnings if something dangerous is on the way.

Moldova frequently experiences severe weather events such as storms, floods, extreme temperatures and droughts. The storms on the night of September 3, 2019, ended up producing heavy rain, hail and strong winds, causing significant crop damage and electricity outages. And, due to climate change, it is projected that the country will face more extreme weather like this in the future.

Because of this increasing risk, the World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery have been helping Moldova strengthen its climate resilience, including modernizing the State Hydrometeorological Service.  For example, a weather radar installed at Chisinau International Airport enables the State Hydrometeorological Service to track precipitation and wind as storms enter and pass through the country.

As part of a unified weather radar system, which constantly shares and receives data from the Romanian National Meteorological Administration, Moldova also benefits from seeing what is happening outside of the country, by watching weather phenomena develop and approach it. Just like the storm on September 3, 2019.

Radar animation of storms crossing Romania and entering Moldova on September 3, 2019. Source: Romanian National Meteorological Administration

Modern automatic weather stations around Moldova ensure that the State Hydrometeorological Service knows what is happening on the ground in real-time.  Measurements are provided to forecasters and fed into numerical weather prediction systems (computer models) operated by the Romanian National Meteorological Administration, simulating the weather four times per day at a high spatial resolution (2.8 km). The Romanian model covers all of Moldova, and the Romanian National Meteorological Administration has been sharing their model results with the State Hydrometeorological Service since 2015.

The State Hydrometeorological Service’s meteorological observation network. Most meteorological stations and posts were rehabilitated and automated with World Bank financing, except for those at Camenca, Dubasari, Ribnita and Tiraspol.

By blending local information with satellite data and European and Romanian weather models on modern workstations, specialists at the State Hydrometeorological Service have all the information they need to forecast the weather and, if needed, to issue warnings. The detailed official warning on September 3, 2019, issued at 11:40am, was:

“During the period 03.09, 18:00 to 04.09, 06:00 we expect atmospheric instability: rain accompanied by lightning, with isolated heavy rain (15-25 liters per square meter), hail and wind gusts up to 15-20 meters per second.”

The forecast proved to be accurate, with some regions of Moldova experiencing heavy rains of 15-66 liters per square meter, wind gusts between 15-24 meters per second, and hail up to 8 millimeters in diameter. The issuing of a yellow-level warning was spot on: while there was some risk, this was not an extreme event, but people needed to be aware of it, using the following color scale:

Green: no particular awareness of the weather is required

Yellow: the weather is potentially dangerous

Orange: the weather is dangerous

Red: the weather is very dangerous

Thunderstorms over Chisinau, the capital of Moldova
Thunderstorms over Chisinau, the capital of Moldova. Author: Sergiu Sobuleac

Modern technology and specialized technical expertise are certainly important, but the State Hydrometeorological Service is also striving to improve the sustainability and quality of its products and services to ensure it fully meets national demand.

With support from the Romanian National Meteorological Administration and Institute of Hydrology and Water Management, the State Hydrometeorological Service recently adopted new verification systems to monitor its forecasting performance and identify needs for improvement. At the same time, it has adopted a Quality Management System to ensure it consistently delivers products and services that meet user demand and legal and regulatory requirements. And, to increase user confidence, it is aiming for eventual certification under ISO Standard 9001.

One approach to improving the quality of its services has been to adopt the European standards for multi-hazard early warning, MeteoAlarm, promoted by the Network of European Meteorological Services. These standards aim to provide warnings in a format understandable to all potential recipients, harmonize warnings across borders, move towards impact-oriented warnings (reporting what the weather will do rather than what it will be) and support cross-border collaboration between forecasters.

MeteoAlarm provides up-to-date multi-hazard early warnings across Europe, delivered with easy-to-understand infographics linking to details in local languages. Adoption of the MeteoAlarm approach by the State Hydrometeorological Service, in 2015, was enabled through coordinated support from the World Bank, Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, Austrian Central Institute of Meteorology and Geodynamics, Austrian Development Agency and UNDP.

Warnings issued through MeteoAlarm at 13:00 CET on September 3, 2019, valid for September 4, 2019. Yellow thunderstorm warnings for eastern Romania and Moldova were issued by the National Meteorological Administration and State Hydrometeorological Service, respectively. Map source: meteoalarm.eu

The State Hydrometeorological Service is also strengthening how it and its partner service providers in Moldova engage with users of hydrometeorological and climate information services. As such, a National Framework for Climate Services has been established which aims to help Moldova adapt to climate change and improve its climate risk management. This will include improvements in the quality, delivery and use of climate-related information in planning, policy and practice.

While climate change will bring more frequent and intense weather events to Moldova, the State Hydrometeorological Service and its partners are making sure that all Moldovan citizens and visitors to the country, as well as economic sectors, are aware when severe weather is on the way.  Just like on September 3, 2019, this helps reduce the potential negative impacts and builds resilience by allowing people to prepare for the worst.

Authors

Daniel Werner Kull

Senior Disaster Risk Management Specialist

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