Category Archives: Weather & Climate

When the Clouds Crack – 13 Ways You Can Protect Yourself

This week started with an unstable weather here and in the region. We had a thunderstorm on Monday night which continued until the early hours of Tuesday. On Wednesday Mauritiuswitnessed a thundery weather; offices and schools were dismissed earlier. The electricity went off for some time.

 

On Thursday the weather was cloudy but no thunderstorm as forecast over Rodrigues. Still there was some panic. The school authorities were concerned about the safety pf school children.

 

The tragic consequences of the torrential rain episode of 26 March in Mauritius are still vivid in their minds.  And they know that regions like Riviere Cocos, Port Sud Est, Batatran in the east are particularly prone to flooding during heavy rainfall.

 

Precautions are even more important during thundery weather. Why? What special precautions are required? In order to answer these questions we need to understand the nature of a thunderstorm.

 

So let’s see what a thunderstorm is, how it is formed, how it strikes and how you can protect yourself.

 

Thunder clouds 

A thunderstorm is a storm with lightning and thunder, heavy rain, gusty winds and sometimes hail. It occurs when the atmosphere is unstable. The air is warm and humid. Coupled with active cold fronts and sea breezes it rises to form cumulonimbus clouds with high vertical extent. These clouds, which may reach up to 12 km high, become highly electrically charged and are sometimes referred to as thunder clouds.

 

Electric discharges 

The rising air causes the charges to separate; the positive charges concentrate at the top and the negative charges at the base of the clouds. When these charges come into contact, as they certainly will with instability, they produce electrical discharges and huge sparks or thunderbolts. Lightning is visible and seconds after you can hear a rumbling sound, thunder. You see the lightning first because light travels faster than sound. The air temperature at the discharge point may reach about 27 000 oC.

 

Lightning and Thunder 

Lightning is an electric current, a bright flash of electricity produced by a thunderstorm. It is very dangerous and is known to kill more people than tornadoes.

 

Thunder is caused by lightning which expands the air while finding a path to the ground. When the light is gone the air collapses back creating a sound wave we hear as thunder.

 

Thunder occurs in our region usually during the period December through April, about three times in a month and 17 days per year. On rare occasions, like this week, thunderstorm occurs in May also. The winter season doesn’t favour the formation of thunder clouds.

 

Can you assess the distance of a thunderstorm? 

Sometimes there’s only lightning, no thunder. Why? Well, the answer is simple. The thunderstorm is far from the point where you are, too far to be heard by the human ear. Usually beyond 10 km you cannot hear thunder.

 

But if you hear thunder and you want to calculate its approximate distance (in km) just divide by three the time (in sec) elapsed between the moment you see lightning and the moment you hear thunder. (To find distance in miles, divide time by 5).

 

And if you hear a deafening cracking sound almost momentarily after a lightning then it is most likely that the storm is overhead or very close to where you are. You need to be very vigilant.

 

Lightning targets 

Lightning takes the shortest path to the ground. Thus an object that is closer to the cumulonimbus cloud will be the prime target. Trees, mountain tops, high buildings, TV antennas, electric poles, masts, boats in the open sea and the highest point in a plain are all lightning targets. So the basic thing you can do is: stay away from these targets during a thunderstorm.

 

Protecting yourself 

A lightning strike actually kills and may cause damage to buildings and structures and may even trigger a fire. You’ll protect yourself if you follow simple rules as outlined hereunder:

 

  1. Be on the lookout for darkening skies, lightning and increasing winds. These are precursors of a thunderstorm. Pay heed to the weather forecasts. Don’t wait for the rain to begin.
  2. If you hear thunder, go to a safe place immediately
  3. If you are at sea, rush to the shore and find a shelter immediately
  4. If you are in an open area, crouch down; but don’t lay flat, minimize contact with the ground
  5. If you cannot find a shelter stay away from any tree, at least twice as far away from it as it is tall
  6.  If you are in a forest, seek shelter in a low area under small trees
  7. If you are on a mountain, climb down immediately
  8. If you are in a vehicle, stay inside. Don’t touch any metallic parts
  9. Do not take shower, wash hands, dishes or do laundry. Stay out of water as it is a good conductor of electricity.
  10. Disconnect all electrical appliances at home or in the office
  11. Don’t use the corded telephone. Mobile phone is safer.
  12. Stay off porches and away from doors and windows
  13. Protect your house or building by installing a lightning conductor or rod. It is a device that provides an easier path for current to flow to the earth than through your house or building. It is made of a vertical metal strip or rod, usually of copper or similar conductive material placed on the roof top and connected to the ground. This system was invented by Benjamin Franklin.

You can assume that the thunderstorm has ceased or moved away if you don’t observe lightning or thunder for at least 30 minutes. You can now resume your routine.

 

Recent flooding: How relevant were my arguments?

In the last post in my series relating to the recent flood that hit Mauritius I referred to the event as a wake-up call. I highlighted a number of things which I considered as shortcomings and I came up with some suggestions about what needed to be done to mitigate the impacts of such catastrophe in future. “One fatality is too much,” had said the Prime Minister in the aftermath of the unprecedented flood, which took the lives of four of our citizens.

One of my concerns related to the responsibility of the authorities, namely the local authorities, regarding the drainage system with the ongoing property development in the country and the state of the canals, rivers and other prone areas.

I also raised the issue of enforcement during warnings to deter people from wandering without plausible reason when a warning is in force, as is the case in some countries.

These two issues were also prominently dealt with in the second post of the series.

And I proposed that the authorities need to take action to review the existing state of our drainage systems and exercise controls over property development such that they take adequate care of water evacuation. Then I suggested that some sort of policing needed to be done to track warning defaulters.

Well, I have to say it loud that my concerns were justified. Reports by Gibb consultants between 2001 and 2003, extracts of which were published in the weekly newspaper Le Defi Plus of last week (18 April), simply confirm what I mentioned in my “flood series of posts”. Absolutely convergent with the arguments presented in the posts. They show to what extent our system of water evacuation was deficient and the lack of adequate measures by the authorities to remedy the situation, especially in relation to property development and the state of drains and prone areas.

But what comforts me more is the decision of the Government last week to come up with a legislation to track and convict those who ignore warnings. I was a bit hesitant to come up with this proposal because I considered it as a very sensitive issue. But, as the PM mentioned, such enforcement measures exist in other countries. Reunion island is one example in the region.

I don’t want to boast myself in any way. But it’s indeed reinvigorating when your ideas meet with positive findings and outcomes of reports and political decisions. It gives another boost to probe yet further into issues, however sensitive and burning they may be. Provided you do in-depth research and come up with constructive ideas.

Last Week’s Flooding: A Post-mortem View 4

Let’s recapitulate before going further. In the first post we looked into the event that hit the country. Then we probed into the existing torrential rain warning system after which, yesterday we addressed the issue in the context of global climate change and the summer floods that hit the UK.
This post, the last in the series, is dedicated to suggesting a way forward. It’ll highlight some aspects of flood preparedness that need to be addressed and provide simple safety tips that will go a long way in protecting people and preventing catastrophic outcomes from flood events.

Flood preparedness

Flood is not a new event here. Although it’s not a frequent occurrence, there’s ground for concern. The first severe flood occurred in 1959 and another flood event was noted in 1979 when a 15-day non-stop rainfall caused severe flooding throughout the country after a storm named Hiacynthe stayed in the region longer than expected.

The event of last week was in some sort a wake-up call. That is why people need to be in a constant state of preparedness. I won’t pretend to be a specialist in flood resilience mechanism. It’s basic knowledge that a flash flood does not announce ahead. It occurs when heavy rain falls in a prone area. People need to keep track of weather conditions and stay away from the hot spots like streams, canals and drains in order to protect themselves. Water can rush downstream heavily and cause havoc, like it did at Mon Gout.

Suggestions for an improved resilience strategy

Without pre-empting the findings and recommendations of the FFC here’s a list of issues which I consider important for an improved disaster management system, including flood.

  1. TRES – The scheme has been in place for more than two decades. The changing face of climate requires that it be revisited to make it responsive to the challenges of the day.
  2. Weather services – There’s a need to probe into the technical limitations of the forecasting system in relation to the TRES and find out whether the competencies are adequate and how capacity building is responding in the context of new hazards.
  3. Disaster Warning Management Board (DWMB) – The warning system has hitherto been in the sole hands of the Director of the Meteorological Services. Incoming challenges seem to add up to the pressure on that person. Extra brains will definitely add value to the decision-making process in crucial moments. I don’t think it’s a big deal if the authorities could consider setting up a board comprising three to five specialists from key areas, including the Director of the Meteorological Services and experts in hydrology, for that purpose. They can collectively decide on the type and timing of warning to be issued based on information from the weather services and issue directives, free from perceived political interference, for the management of the incident.
  4. Flood prone areas – It should be ensured that a properly monitored survey is done on the state of drains, canals, rivers, and all places prone to flooding and appropriate remedial measures are taken where necessary well before the approach of the heavy rain season. Although provided in the TRES this task seems to have been taken for granted. The authorities should be able to overcome the lethargic approach and look for the missing links.
  5. Drainage system and flood-resilient infrastructures – Strict control should be effected on building and property development plans to ensure proper drainage system and improved flood-resilience. Here also there were apparent signs of weaknesses.
  6. Schools – Clearer instructions and more straightforward guidelines should be worked out for the opening/closing of schools during extreme weather events or progressive deterioration of weather conditions capable of causing serious inconvenience to the safety, security and health of school children irrespective of the criterion of 100 mm of rainfall within a given period.
  7. Policing – This is a very sensitive issue. But experience is the best teacher. Isn’t it? Some sort of sanction need to be provided to control those who ignore warnings and venture irresponsibly without good and sufficient cause in visibly risky weather conditions, especially during a warning. People should know they have a duty (under the law) to act responsibly.
  8. Rapid Emergency Rescue and Evacuation Services – Rescue and evacuation services need to be prompt, effective and efficient. A better coordinated approach is essential to avoid ambiguity and waste of time, effort and energy.
  9. Communication – Alternative means of communication, e,g. sms or mail alerts, electronic bill boards, should be explored to ensure the public is adequately warned of imminent dangers.
  10. Awareness and sensitisation – A properly monitored ongoing campaign needs to be put in place to arouse people’s awareness to dangers of nature. Specific responsibility should be assigned to that effect.
  11. Accountability – The proposed DWMB could constantly monitor progress with regard to the responsibility entrusted upon stakeholders in order to ensure proper accountability for actions or omissions in their areas of concern. This would ensure proper preparedness to catastrophic events. The existing Cyclone and Other Disasters Committee meets only during a disaster period.
  12. Family disaster plan – The population should be encouraged to set up a family disaster plan indicating what they need to do and what provisions they need to make prior to the occurrence of the event.

Follow simple rules and protect yourself

You’ll do yourself good if you follow the tips below in case of a flood threat:

  1. Go to higher grounds immediately if you are outdoors.
  2. Stay away from the vulnerable areas, like rivers, streams, canals, ditches, river beds, open drains.
  3. Don’t attempt to cross running flood water.
  4. Don’t drive through flooded roadways. Take another route.
  5. In case of breakdown, leave your vehicle immediately and go to higher grounds.
  6. Understand the terms used by the weather services. For instance if you are told there’s river flooding, it means rivers are filling up and getting out of banks.
  7. Be especially careful at night.

Conclusion

To conclude this series of posts I’d be somewhat blunt: we cannot point fingers so long as we don’t know the A to Z of the situation. People tend to react in a blind fury at losses and inconveniences sustained by them or their dear ones. This is comprehensible. But what’s more important is putting our heads together to find solutions adapted to the changing circumstances. No system is set to remain permanently static. Periodic review is what makes it dynamic and responsive to ongoing changes.

Putting blames blindly leads to nowhere. At some point in time you’ll find that somebody somewhere failed. At another, you’ll see that nobody can be held responsible due to the complexity of the issue. Yet if you get into a thorough post-mortem analysis you’ll find the third culprit: everybody. If at all we have to blame it’s the system that didn’t seem to yield the expected result.

So let us not divert from the main issue. Let’s be inspired by Sir Michael Pitt while we wait patiently for the outcome of the Fact Finding Committee which will start its sitting soon. Have you anything to tell the Committee? Contact them.

There you are folks. That concludes my “flood” series. If you appreciated it share it with your friends or you might consider subscribing to my feed to keep yourself posted. If you have any ideas or suggestions I’ll see you in my comment box. Cheers.

Last Week’s Flooding: A Post-mortem View 3

So far we have looked into the chronology of events and the adequacy or inadequacy of the system in place. You can already sense the complexity of the issue unfolding swiftly. There’s a lot more. We are a small country after all.

This post will look into the problem of flooding in the context of global climate change and the vulnerability of developed countries like the UK and cast a quick glance at lessons learnt from their experiences.

A worldwide issue in the wake of global climate change

Weather doesn’t behave the same way anymore. With the ongoing global changes in climatic conditions extreme events are becoming recurrent, hitting places where they rarely did previously, and with rare intensity. Heavy rains and flooding are not an issue only for small countries like Mauritius. Other well developed countries have become vulnerable too and experienced distressful moments despite all the technological advances.

The summer floods in June-July last year in the UK is a vivid example of the complexity of prediction of such events and the vulnerability of people to cope with them. They caused widespread chaos; school children were blocked after their coaches were trapped in flooded areas, several vehicles were stranded in parking areas and thousands of homes and businesses were affected, according to reports from the BBC.

The failings in the summer floods in the UK

The independent Reviewer into the summer floods in the UK, Sir Michael Pitt, in an interim report released recently highlighted several loopholes in the system in place in the UK to address such disaster. Among the failings it was noted that there was no national flood emergency plan; no clear responsibility for dealing with urban flooding; no systematic stockpiling of emergency equipment, such as boats. The drainage system was overloaded and there was ambiguity with regard to coordination of emergency and rescue. The complexity and technical limitations of flood prediction surfaced out.

Sir Michael Pitt’s report, which is due for final release next summer, contains several recommendations including the need to improve weather forecasting techniques; build more flood-resilient properties; and ensure greater leadership from the local authorities. However, Sir Michael did not pinpoint any blame. “The report does not point the finger of blame. Anyone looking for that will be disappointed,” said Sir Michael. “What we’ve tried to do is look forward and be positive about what can be done in the future.” (Source: BBC News)

Fact Finding Committee (FFC)

Back in Mauritius a three-member Fact Finding Committee has been set up under the head of a sitting Judge of the Supreme Court with one of the assessors being a former Director of the Mauritius Meteorological Services. No doubt this committee will come up with a positive way forward for enhanced flood-resilience (or general disaster-resilience to cover other disasters).

An overhaul of the existing procedures has become imperative with the emerging challenges. We witnessed unprecedented tidal waves in May last year when the government resolved to review measures to mitigate consequences. On 31 January this year the meteorological services was targeted for abrupt lifting of warning during tropical storm Gula. The recent flood event was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. The assistance of the WMO has also been sought to find out about the forecasting techniques of the local weather services and how the warning systems can be improved.

Tomorrow in the final post of the series I’ll look into what could be done for a better flood preparedness strategy.

Last Week’s Flooding: A Post-mortem View 2

From the previous post you should have some idea on the sequence of events that led to various (misleading so to say) interpretation of matters.

Today I’ll go into further details on some of the provisions of the Torrential Rain Emergency Scheme and analyse its adequacy or inadequacy with close reference to what obtains in other parts of the world.

Responsibilities under the Torrential Rain Emergency Scheme

With the severity of the events one can reasonably argue as to the adequacy of the scheme and the adherence to its provisions by the respective bodies. For instance the scheme provides that before the convening of a meeting of the Cyclone and Other Natural Disasters Committee, the Local Authorities should:

  1. undertake a survey of flood prone areas and the state of the drainage system and arrange for appropriate remedial action to be taken;
  2. carry out an audit of all drainage systems including the state of riverbeds in their respective areas of responsibility;
  3. arrange for the cleaning of all drains, canals, beds and banks of lakes, rivulets and streams systematically and specially during the rainy season;
  4. update the list of flood prone areas…..;
  5. review urban and rural development building plans taking into consideration the need for the provision of adequate drainage system; and
  6. compile appropriate documentation (audiovisual aids, photographs, handouts, etc) of flood events to promote public awareness.

While the Police with the assistance of the Fire Services and the Prisons Department have the responsibility to organise rescue or evacuation exercise.

Have these duties been discharged as indicated? People complained of lack or complete absence of assistance from the emergency and rescue services.

Awareness campaigns and the maintenance of drains, canals and other prone areas involve adequate resources in terms of labour and capital. Reports indicate that drains and canals at several places were clogged or simply rendered ineffective or inexistent by property development. And from press statements we gather that the authorities had to struggle through financial constraints in order to live up to their responsibilities.

No doubt heavy amount of accumulated water would gush once it finds a path. And that’s what happened at Mon Gout where the poor child was carried away along with a lady.

Then there’s one fundamental issue that needs attention: all too often people ignore warnings and they act irresponsibly when venturing in visibly risky weather conditions. And there are those for whom the sense of civic responsibility is a big deal. Just figure out the bus discharging its passengers in an over flooded area. Was there anyone to stop the child from crossing the bridge? It appears she was accompanied. Was there any public awareness campaign? If yes, how effective was it?

Those are the areas where the shoe pinches; and we should direct our effort in investigating into these aspects of the catastrophe in order to come up with mitigation measures for the future.

Is the Scheme adequate?

The cyclone emergency scheme has worked fairly well in Mauritius. With four stages of warning from Class I to Class IV the population is adequately informed of the imminent dangers of cyclones. But the torrential rain warning is not phased. A warning is issued only when the amount of rainfall has reached 100 mm and is likely to persist for several hours.

Emergency schemes and early warning systems vary from country to country. It all depends on the nature of the hazards. But the principle of these systems is the same. All are concerned with providing explicit and timely advice to the population so that they are prepared beforehand to face the events with minimal inconveniences and to protect themselves.

In some countries there’s a three-stage warning system for weather hazards including thunderstorms, floods, storms and tornadoes. A watch is issued when the weather services expect people to watch out for weather problems and when things might turn bad. An advisory is issued when minor street flooding starts to occur, meaning problems have started. While they’ll issue a warning when storms are actually causing considerable problems like flash flooding and things have become dangerous.

Can these systems be adopted or adapted to the local context? It’s up to the authorities to ponder upon them. The recent flood event has definitely given some food for thought. There’s widespread criticism with regard to the criteria of 100 mm. Some opinions indicate that when this has happened it’s already too late; it’s time for rescue and evacuation rather than to start taking precautionary measures.

Perhaps the authorities could also investigate into the enforcement side of warnings in an endeavour to situate the responsibility of each and every citizen. Are we responsible citizens of this country? It costs nothing for any Tom Dick and Harry to criticize; but it does cost some bucks in terms of man, money and materials when the rescue team has to set foot in gullies to save those who’ve been stuck out of their own imprudence by simply ignoring the safety instructions in disaster conditions. I won’t go into asking what people do around river banks at a moment when the weather is at its worst. Anyway.

My next post will focus on extreme events as standing challenges the world over. It will peek into the summer floods that hit the UK last year and the main lessons learnt. Stay tuned.

Last Week’s Flooding: A Post-mortem View 1

Four dead including one school child of 13 in the unprecedented flood that hit the country on Wednesday last. The child was returning home after early school dismissal due to torrential rain warning. No sooner had she alighted from the bus than she attempted to cross an over flooded bridge to reach her residence. But the water gushing outrageously from the river swept her away from the roadway. How could she gauge the strength of such sudden surge?

Passers by stood dumb, powerless. Several houses were inundated, cars wrecked and roads damaged, causing gross inconvenience. It’s been raining heavily since the preceding week but none expected such a catastrophic outcome like a flash flood that would sweep everything on its way.

I’ll be dealing with the recent flood event of 26 March 2008 in a series of four posts starting from this one. I’ll make a brief analysis of the sequence of events that caused widespread confusion and come up with some suggestions based on experiences here and there.

In such events we tend to look for a scapegoat. That’s typical political, and often communal, strategy. Can we find one? Should we venture to point fingers? Be wary. And don’t be shocked if you happen to unveil the culprits. And culprits there are definitely, three: somebody, nobody and everybody.

In this post I’ll look into what happened on the morning of Wednesday 26 March and what the existing emergency scheme says about torrential rain warnings.

The authorities criticised

The people are pointing at the Meteorological Services for not having warned the population in time. They criticised the Minister of Education for not having taken appropriate action to order school closure right from the morning on that day and for having dismissed school late at a time when, they say, the downpour had exceeded torrential stage. The people are angry with what they call an ineffective emergency response service. They had to organise their own rescue system to prevent those they could from drowning.

Could the torrential rain have been predicted? Was the flooding (over flooding or flash flood) foreseeable? Why did the Meteorological Services wait until 11.00 am (07.00 UT) to issue a torrential rain warning? Why did the Ministry of Education fail to declare a school holiday on that day? Were the authorities up to the level of their responsibility? These and many other questions are still haunting the minds of the people who are outraged and need reassurance.

To a question from the press during the weekend the Deputy Director of the Mauritius Meteorological Services was blunt: “I challenge any meteorological station in the world to be able to predict such torrential rain.” He further stated that, if we can calculate the percentage of humidity in the atmosphere, it’s impossible to know the amount of rainfall that the clouds will release at a given time.

Torrential Rain Emergency Scheme (TRES)

Yet there is a Torrential Rain Emergency Scheme which forms an integral part of the Cyclone and Other Natural Disasters Scheme. This scheme lays specific responsibilities on various bodies, like the Local Authorities, the Meteorological Services, the Road Development Authority, the Ministry of Education, the Police, and the Mauritius Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) among others with regard to the action to be taken in the event of torrential rain conditions. Let us see some of its salient features in order to understand whether what happened on Wednesday could have been prevented. The scheme provides as follows:

  1. The Meteorological Services is required to advise the Ministry of Education and Human Resources and issue warnings at regular intervals as soon as “climatic conditions prevailing over Mauritius or Rodrigues produced 100 mm of widespread rains in less than 12 hours and that this heavy rain is likely to continue for several hours”.
  2. Whenever torrential rain conditions have produced 100 mm of rains and heavy rains are likely to continue at the beginning of a school day, schools will not be opened for school children. If such a condition is observed during school hours the Meteorological Services will inform the Ministry of Education and Human Resources who will arrange through the MBC, private radio stations and the Police to warn the public accordingly.”
  3. As soon as such a warning is issued all classes will stop.” And the National Transport Authority has the responsibility “to arrange for bus facilities in all routes to be provided, as soon as possible, to school children who travel by bus.”

What really happened in that dreary morning?

At 5.00 am (01.00 UT) rainfall recorded hadn’t reached 100 mm, the weather services say. But the communiqué issued at that time did mention that people including school children should take precautions in view of heavy rainfall forecast. After having ascertained the criteria was reached, the Meteorological Services issued a torrential rain warning at around 11.00 am (07.00 UT). The Cyclone and other Disasters Committee met subsequently and it’s only then that the decision was taken to stop school. By that time it was nearly 2.00 pm (10.00 UT). We all know what followed.

It cannot be said with ease whether a decision could have been taken to close schools altogether on that day in the absence of clear and specific instructions to that effect in the scheme. People can draw their own conclusions based on existing procedures and knowledge of the prevailing situation.

In my next post I’ll probe deeper into the existing scheme and find out how the various parties responded in relation to the responsibilities entrusted on them.

Atypical storm movement

Significant weather changes have been occurring since I came here. The first week and the first day I took over my duty there was a cyclone threat; this week another storm crossed the region. Fortunately they didn’t hit the island. But they did bring some rain at least.

Ivan was the first storm to target Rodrigues. It was formed in the waters around St Brandon and moved south-eastwards as from Thursday 7. Storm warnings were issued the next day and were maintained until the Sunday morning when Ivan started moving away.

As it approached it weakened a bit and decelerated to a point of quasi-stationary around 400 kilometers to the north of our small island before making a movement with a northerly component. It made a loop and then took a general westerly direction towards the north of Mauritius and hit Madagascar during the last weekend. We were spared.

Meanwhile the other storm Hondo, which was formed around Diego Garcia well before Ivan, also took a south easterly movement but this time it was moving away from us. It didn’t represent any threat. It weakened as it reached latitude 20 well below that of Rodrigues. During the last weekend what remained of Hondo started moving westwards directly heading towards us. It passed at its nearest point yesterday night and blessed us with significant amount of rain; the highest amount recorded being about 66 millimeters over 24 hours. The wind blew at an average speed of about 35 kilometers per hour to reach a peak of 77 kilometers per hour today.

Curiously the two storms followed an unusual pattern. Storms in this region are known to move in a direction varying between south and west. Ivan and Hondo’s movement were atypical. A rare anticyclone of about 1025 hectoPascals seemed to push these systems to the north east and south east until it passed away. Then the low pressure systems took their normal course again, which is why they remained constant threats to the mascarenes islands until Ivan passed over Madagascar causing severe damages. While the remains of Hondo are still influencing weather here and in Mauritius, improvements are expected by tomorrow.

That’s nature’s caprices, anyway.

Always wise after the event

One thing life always teaches us: people are never satisfied with whatever decision you take, still less when it is not in their favor. Tell them there’s a cyclone threat and they start grumbling. Tell them there’s no cyclone warning and they start getting frustrated, especially when it’s in the morning and they have to rush for work. The private sector shouts “shear incompetence, we’ve lost millions”. They believe a class III warning was not warranted yesterday morning. That reminds me of the adage: “we are always wise after the event.”

Mauritius was under the threat of the tropical storm named Gula. The population will not forget Gula so soon. Not that it caused harm. It didn’t do any harm: no damage, no casualty, no flooding. People will remember Gula as a storm which changed characteristics in the twinkling of an eye; from a direct threat to a no-threat in less than an hour.

Workers, business people, school children and the population in general woke up yesterday morning with a class III warning in force on the island. They were all set for a day off awaiting the passage of the dreaded storm during the day. Weather was expected to deteriorate substantially. The weather services boss in a radio intervention at around 8.00 am confirmed the threat and warned the population to remain alert. 40 minutes later he issued a no-warning bulletin.

This meant getting ready for work forthwith. Everybody was taken aback, and somewhat frustrated. The roads remained jammed for long and nearly a half-day’s work was lost. The private sector was not happy at all and claimed having sustained heavy losses due to late opening of their business and the high level of absenteeism. Offices operated with reduced staffing.

Were the meteorological services wrong in their judgment? That’s the question everybody is asking, although the explanation from the weather station is simple. The tropical storm Gula has been plying in the region of St Brandon since the beginning of the week. It had intensified into a tropical cyclone on Wednesday when it was moving a general southerly direction at about 10 to 12 kilometers per hour. A class I warning was issued at 10.00 am so that the population could start preliminary precautions. At 4.00 pm with its continued southerly movement a class II was put in force which meant the threat was increasing. School children went to bed with a holiday the next day in mind. They were reassured when at 4.00 am on Thursday a class III warning was issued. This implies completion of all precautions and added alertness. No school, no work, no business.

The no-warning signal at 8.40 am created some confusion and rush among those who had to report to their work and business as is the case with the lifting of all warnings after the passage of a cyclone. Criticisms came from all quarters and voices were heard on the private radios. Some went to the extent of qualifying the local weather services as incompetent for having, according to them, wrongly assessed and handled the situation.

But the meteorological services boss explained that he had no other option at that particular time and moment when he was in presence of various satellite imageries from no less reputable weather sources like the UK Met Office, Meteo France and Hawaii all operating under the aegis of the World Meteorological Organization. There was every indication of the existence of a real threat in the early morning with marked intensification of the system. Could he take the risk of not alerting the population?

The prime objective of the meteorological services is to “save life and property”, said the meteorological services boss in the 7.30 pm TV news yesterday? He said having acted conscientiously and decided on the no-warning when it was confirmed subsequently by weather observations and other satellite pictures that Gula did no longer represent any threat to our country. It had considerably disorganized and weakened. Cyclonic winds were no longer expected around its centre with a small diameter of 30 to 40 kilometers. What else could he have done? Scientific evidences speak for themselves.

The caprices of the nature have long been subject to discussions. No two scientists can always agree on one particular course of action in a given circumstance. The person on the hot seat is the one who’s got the utmost and ultimate responsibility to ensure the accuracy of his judgment and to provide plausible explanation to the laymen that the rest of us are. How competent are we to qualify others of incompetence in a field we have no competence?

The Mauritius Meteorological Services boss has stood up to his level and assumed the overall and sole responsibility of his decisions, far from any perceived political interference, and reassured the population of his experience and professionalism in handling situations like this one. How many of us would have wished to be on his seat at that moment?

Rain at last!

The new year crept in with new hopes as far as the weather over here is concerned. It’s been too dry and hot during the last few months. Enough. The absence of rain coupled with high evaporation rate has considerably depleted our reservoirs. December did bring but a few drops of rain, although Celina passed by with little significance.

But the new year heralds well. On the very first day we had about 2 inches of rain. Cloud masses started to grow in the region and led to the formation of low pressure systems in the vicinity.

After a short break as from the 2nd January, the downpour has taken up again since yesterday. Figures available from the local weather services indicate about 2 inches of rainfall around the main reservoir. In some regions more than 4 inches were recorded. But these do not seem sufficient for replenishing the reservoirs, which are still well below their capacity. The authorities are still worried about the water distribution and management strategies.

The cloud bands associated with the low pressure system which passed to the west of Mauritius last night are still extending over the region. We do expect some more inches by tomorrow.

This time of the year is crucial for our water collection and management. It’s during this time that we can expect the most significant falls to allow the reservoirs to tune up to their full capacity. It’s during this time also that the drought is most dreaded. The big dark clouds haven’t shown themselves yet. There’s still some hope, until March.

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No more hope from Celina – 7 things you can do

Drought conditions seem to worsen

Drought conditions prevailing, I have to dedicate another post about the weather situation here. This is the third consecutive post to tell you that hopes are fading; we are indeed in or very close to the red zone. With less than 50% capacity our reservoirs are significantly depleting day by day; and if we do not act responsibly we cannot put the blame too much on nature.

At times you badly need an adverse weather, if not for the wind, for the amount of water it may pour; more than the reservoirs can hold. Water is becoming indeed scarce. If it doesn’t rain within the next few days we are doomed. Our tiny island has been spared and it’s the sea which has ingurgitated all the water.

Celina passes by… with a bye-bye

Celina passed off the eastern coasts today. It is now nearly to the south of Mauritius. At 4.00 pm today the tropical storm was about 190 km to the south east. Still of moderate intensity it is moving at about 12 km/h in a south westerly direction. On this trajectory Celina doesn’t seem to represent any threat to our island. It won’t bless us with its rain either; it didn’t last night; not even today as forecast. The weather is however dull and hazy; hardly any significant drops of rain. We’ll have to wait some more. That’s nature anyway.

The authorities give the alarm

The local weather service doesn’t forecast any rain for the coming days. Rainfall recorded to date hasn’t exceeded 25 millimeters this month, which represents only about 15% of the normal. The Central Water Authority has warned against drastic water cuts, especially in the north and the west which are particularly affected by the drought. Government has announced bans on watering and pressure washing until we are blessed with sufficient rainfall.

7 things you can do to preserve water

Less than 50% of water in store is not much, especially if we take into consideration the amount of daily evaporation. The sun is over our head all day. I have pondered over this issue and come up with some tips to help manage the little amount of water that’s left. It calls for a collective action. Each of us has a crucial role; a sacrosanct duty to preserve this precious commodity. Here’s in seven points what we can do:

(i) Do not waste water. This cannot be stressed enough. Use water judiciously. When taking your bath or washing utensils in the sink don’t let the water go when you are applying soap.
(ii) Check for any leaks in your water system.
(iii) Keep enough water in storage tanks or containers for use in times of emergency.
(iv) Do not forget to close the taps; pay special attention when they are dry and they can waste all the water away when the water is restored by the authorities in your absence.
(v) Avoid watering your flower pots or your garden.
(vi) Avoid washing (pressure washing) your car or your house during this period.
(vii) Although it might appear a bit awkward, avoid multiple flushing after wee.

Alternatively you can make use of water from the rivers in the vicinity if there’s one.

Do you have any other tips? Have you experienced such conditions? How did you manage? I’d like to hear from you. Shout – as loud as you can – in my comment box.

Only fine drops

The so-much-awaited rain hasn’t arrived yet. It is now expected tonight and tomorrow with moderate intensity with the approach of the depression which has been named Celina this morning. There’s still some hope for the reservoirs and agriculture as well. However some fine drops have moistened the ground a little bit. But it’s still hot and dry.

Celina is now a moderate tropical depression. It passed over Rodrigues today and brought considerable amount of rainfall there: more than 100 mm. At 4.00 pm it was centred at about 350 kms to the east of our island and is moving in a general south westerly direction at about 15 kilometres per hour.

The associated cloud bands are influencing the weather without significant rainfall. The winds blowing from the south are of the order of 25 to 30 km/h with peaks expected around 60 km/h.

Celina is the third depression of the season which is expected to be less active.

The first drops at last?

The summer season has crept in somewhat late this year. It seems to be dry. We haven’t had significant drops for more than a month. The reservoirs are far below their capacity. Mare aux Vacoas, the main reservoir supplying the country, is drying up steadily. The Central Water Authority has already announced severe water interruptions if there’s no rainfall in the days to come. Mauritians will remember the riots at isolated places last year during this period due to drastic water cuts. Let’s hope this year we don’t reach that stage.

The heavy rainfalls associated usually with tropical storm activity in summer are the only hope for replenishing our reservoirs. There’s every reason to believe that rain will start falling very shortly. The Mauritius Meteorological Services is keeping a watch on a tropical depression about 800 kilometers to the north east. “The first cloud bands associated with the tropical depression will influence the local weather tomorrow,” says today’s evening forecast.

The cyclone activity this year is expected to be slightly below normal with some 7 to 9 named tropical storms according to the seasonal outlook released some time ago by the local weather service.

Tsunami alert

A tremor of 8.2 on Richter scale occurred in the Sumatra region this afternoon. An alert was launched immediately to Tsunami warning centres in the region. Several buildings in the Sumatran region are reported to have been damaged; some ten people killed and a hundred injured following several aftershocks felt.

The Mauritius Meteorological Services, which acts as a focal point for tsunami warning in the mascarenes region, received a first alert around 3.00 pm. Minutes after the news was on the air. The authorities met urgently at the Prime Minister’s Office to monitor the situation and decide on the course of action should a tsunami hit our region.

Information obtained subsequently revealed a slight rise in sea level varying between 10 to 30 cm in the eastern region, near Cocos and Christmas islands. The population was nevertheless warned through frequent bulletins not to venture at sea as significant waves could be expected at around 9.00 pm in our waters. Boats were advised to remain on high seas.

Although a small tsunami hit the Indonesian region, no tsunami was experienced on our side, fortunately. It will be long before people can forget the December 2004 tsunami episode that killed more than 200 000 people. In Mauritius people living in the southern coasts still have the trauma sequels of the tidal waves that hit the island earlier this year. Riviere des Galets inhabitants know something about it. But communication and alert systems have since considerably improved with rapid dissemination of information through the multiple media systems.

The rain halted … the sun came … and the wind followed…

The winter season is drawing to its end. Last week we had typical transitional weather to summer. The sun was there throughout the week; still branches and leaves, and above all, not a single drop of rain. It was really comfortable.

As we got closer to the weekend, it started getting somewhat cold with the approach of an anticyclone, from the south as usual. It’s supposed to be the last in the series. This time it was “dry”, the reason why we didn’t have so much the sensation of cold. The sky was cloudy throughout on Saturday; the weather became windy during the night and remained so on Sunday until yesterday. Night temperature is ranging between 13 and 15 degrees Celsius; it’s not expected to be lower for the rest of the season.

July and August are usually the coldest of the year and we do hope, in the days to come, we’ll have to put away for good our pulls and scarves and heavy blankets. By Thursday the wind is expected to subside and the influence of the relatively cold weather will go on diminishing. At least, that’s what the local Meteorological Services are forecasting.

Still chilly

Cold weather (relatively colder than before) is prevailing since the beginning of the week. Strong winds accompanied by intermittent rainy periods are causing a sensation of chill, especially on high grounds. Temperature has fallen below normal.

In the western parts of the island as we move from the centre towards Port Louis and the vicinity, it’s much better. I just came back from Domaine les Pailles where the Infotech 2007 event (an annual expo of the IT sector) is being held. It was quite warm with a pleasant sun. Here in the central plateau, where I am, it’s still kind of chilly.

The meteorological services say two strong anticyclones to the south of the mascarenes will maintain the cold weather and gusts of the order of 60 km/h. Seas will be rough and people are advised not to venture in the high seas. The weather should improve as from Monday.

So keep your pulls and blanket handy till then.