Kyle Goetsch
Photo by Kyle Goetsch on Unsplash
  • The South African Weather Service has launched a new wave and storm surge predictor.
  • Sea level rise and an increase in storm severity are two of the major risks of climate change. In South Africa, they threaten homes and coastal infrastructure worth billions of Rands.
  • The new forecaster can help disaster management save lives and infrastructure -- and let surfers know when to expect great waves up to three days in advance

The South African Weather Service’s new online portal can tell you when giant waves are coming to your closest beach in real-time. These high-resolution storm surge and wave forecast models are free and available up to three days in advance. 

Storm surges, coupled with rising sea levels, can be catastrophic for coastal cities. Climate change scientists predict that both will increase as our oceans get warmer. For example, Wits University researcher Jennifer Fitchett found that there are increasingly frequent cyclones in the Indian Ocean

These giant waves wreak havoc on coastal communities, causing flooding, damaging buildings and infrastructure, and ultimately threatening people’s lives. 

“If we’re able to warn disaster management a day in advance, it could save lives and billions of Rands,” says Christo Rautenbach, the South African Weather Service’s chief scientist: marine and the driver behind the portal. A 2008 study - looking at the 307km of coastline from Melkbos to Gordon’s Bay - estimated that storm surge damages could cost the City of Cape Town between R5-billion and R20-billion by the early 2030s. 

However, the portal is not just for emergency services, parastatals, and local government, but also surfers and fishers, Rautenbach says.

“We’re trying to make as user-friendly as possible.” 

There are different types of maps on the portal, which derives its information from models, sensors, and wave buoys, among other things, around the country. The one map offers a regional overview, with a resolution of about 6km. The high-resolution maps zoom into 2km areas for specific areas, such as the Cape Peninsula, Port Elizabeth and Durban. There are also graphs showing how the wave heights have changed over time. 

The portal was developed in-house and “literally cost our salaries for the time that it took to build this”, he says. “We want South Africa to know that this is now an option for coastal activities, and we want feedback: what are people happy with, what are they unhappy with. We want SA to know that we’re moving forward.”

For more, go to Business Insider South Africa.

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