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Met can help users get more from forecasts

By | December 25th 2009

When the Meteorological Department put out a forecast in July 1997 of the El NiÒo phenomenon to begin later that year, it was dismissed as improbable, like all the other "wrong" forecasts it makes. But the facile dismissals favoured by the media and the public are a result of misunderstanding forecasts and over-reliance on anecdotal evidence. Met officials were proved right with devastating effect: More than Sh70 billion worth of damage was caused.

We hope that this time round, even as farmers and others joked about another miss by the forecasters, the institutions affected most by the phenomenon took it seriously and made the preparations needed. The department’s forecasts are sent to the Office of the President as well as the Transport, Agriculture, Water, Medical Services/Health and Information and Communications ministries. More than 85 per cent of the 1997 damage was to transport and agriculture infrastructure. Also told are KenGen and Kenya Power and Lighting Company, which rely on hydropower. We hope these bodies, having learned from the mistakes of 1997-98, have taken mitigation and emergency response measures. This year’s El NiÒo need not be as devastating as the last to wreak havoc: it only needs to catch us unawares.

The Met department’s capacity to provide information is not perfect, but it is reasonably good. It could use a better image, and a better understanding of its work. We suggest they begin by talking to the angry folk complaining of costly but empty dams and pans or fields tilled on the Met’s say-so then a long wait for rain.

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