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.
“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.”
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