Skip to main content

Global project launched to improve African weather forecasting – University of Reading

Show access keys

Global project launched to improve African weather forecasting

Release Date 21 July 2017

African populations are particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events

A £7.8m funding award has been announced for a project involving the University of Reading, which aims to deliver weather forecasts to people in Africa in new and innovative ways.

Jo Johnson MP, Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, announced on Friday 21 July that the Global Challenges Research Council had awarded the funding to the GCRF African Science for Weather Information and Forecasting Techniques (GCRF African SWIFT) project. The project, led by the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, seeks to improve African weather forecasting capabilities, and benefit the livelihoods of African populations.

Accurate weather forecasting is an essential tool of modern society, bringing benefit to people’s safety and livelihoods, and to national economic development. The impacts of weather in Africa can be very significant, not only because of weather extremes such as storms, droughts and floods but also because many citizens live in poor conditions.

In recent years, the world has experienced a revolution in the skill of weather forecasts. The GCRF African SWIFT project will enable us to bring the benefits of these forecasts to millions of African people who are vulnerable to severe weather events. Significantly improving the research capacity within African forecasting will benefit sectors as diverse as emergency response, aviation, agriculture, energy and water.

Weather warnings by text message

The GCRF African SWIFT team will work with forecast users to tailor the provision and delivery of weather forecasts, for example by delivering SMS weather warnings to farmers and fishermen. The aim is to ensure improved response to high-impact events (e.g. onset of rains, heatwaves, dry spells and strong winds), improved emergency response to extreme events (urban flooding and prolonged droughts), and increased resilience for response to climate change.

Dr Steven Woolnough from the University of Reading said:

"Subseasonal Weather Prediction, forecasting for lead times of 2-4 weeks is a rapidly developing area of operational weather forecasting. The GCRF African SWIFT project will enable us to work with our African partners to ensure that they develop the capability to exploit these new developments for both Hazard Early Warning and decision making in weather sensitive sectors."

The Global Challenges Research Fund award has the ambition that African forecasting capabilities will improve on hourly and seasonal timescales, and that a lasting research infrastructure will be put in place that translates benefits to the wider developing world.

The GCRF African SWIFT consortium builds upon existing partnerships between forecasting centres and universities in four African partner countries - Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya. Over the four year programme, the team of 25 UK and 45 African atmospheric scientists, social scientists and operational forecasters will undertake fundamental scientific research into the physics of tropical weather systems, evaluation and presentation of complex model and satellite data, and communications and exploitation of forecasts.

Dr Thorwald Stein, University of Reading said:

"The GCRF African SWIFT project enables collaborations with meteorological agencies in Africa on the verification of forecasts of severe weather events. This will help us to raise the confidence and public trust in these forecasts, so that more people may act on them and potentially reduce loss of life and livelihood."

You can read the announcement at:

More information can be found on the project pages:


Trade offs in agricultural development

A second project involving the University of Reading has also funded with £3.7m of funding from the GCRF to address social and environmental trade-offs in African agriculture. 

The programme targets a challenge that lies at the heart of sustainable development in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) - how agriculture should develop to achieve food security in the context of rapidly growing demand for food (150% by 2050), while at the same time safeguarding key ecosystem services and avoiding contributing to growing inequalities in society.

Current agricultural development strategies are poorly informed, particularly in light of projected regional changes in climate - contributing to increasing inequalities and potentially further marginalisation of those who depend on agriculture for a living. 

Prof Elizabeth Robinson, Professor of Environmental Economics at the University of Reading said:

"I am delighted that we are a part of this IIED-led project, which recognises the critical role played by building capacity across a broad range of stakeholders, from civil society through to policy makers and researchers, both in African countries and here in the UK. 

"Here at Reading we will be bringing to the project expertise across a number of disciplines including agricultural economics, soil science, and ecology. A central contribution of the University of Reading team will be in modelling, measuring, and articulating the implications of different agricultural development pathways with respect to rural livelihoods and on-farm ecosystem services.

"Critical elements of this will include quantifying the impact on poverty, inequality, and employment opportunities; and understanding the resilience of livelihoods and the on-farm ecosystem to correlated and idiosyncratic shocks and trends, for different pathways.

"This project provides a unique opportunity for researchers here at the University of Reading to further develop skills critical to the university’s vision, which includes “engaging with policy and practice” and “growing our global presence”. In particular, we are excited about the opportunity to grow the University of Reading’s capacity for overseas policy engagement, building on and enhancing our track record of research impact."

The SENTINEL team plans to close this gap in three African countries and help key decision makers – as well as the civil groups that lobby them – understand the different ways of developing agriculture without impacting negatively on the natural environment and depriving people of the goods it has historically provided. Lessons learned will be useful for the entire sub-Saharan Africa region. 

We use Javascript to improve your experience on, but it looks like yours is turned off. Everything will still work, but it is even more beautiful with Javascript in action. Find out more about why and how to turn it back on here.
We also use cookies to improve your time on the site, for more information please see our cookie policy.