SA Weather Service battered by faulty equipment, decries CEO

Pretoria – The South African Weather Service (SAWS) has blamed the poor state of their equipment for failing to warn citizens earlier of the stormy weather that devastated parts of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.

SAWS CEO Jerry Lengoasa on Thursday said although a severe weather warning for the catastrophic thunderstorm was issued, he conceded that the message could have been delivered earlier.

He said when the storm system started forming, one of the weather service's radars was down, which meant that the sending out of the warning was delayed by a couple of hours.

#SAStorms: Light thunderstorms expected for KZN

"I can say we lost a little bit of time, a couple of hours, by not having it ready," Lengoasa told News24 after a media briefing at the SAWS head office in Pretoria.

"However, because of our capability of also using satellite - the watch which basically says be aware there is an imminent system coming - [the message] was already issued on Sunday."

Lengoasa said warnings were sent out on social and news media and the National Disaster Risk Management Centre was also notified of a weather watch.

However, he believes this critical and potentially life-saving message did not reach enough of South Africans, in particular, those who needed the information the most.

'Hardly scratched the surface' 

"It is abundantly clear that we hardly scratched the surface of those that needed to receive the information, before the events for rapid decision-making in the face of the hazard."

Lengoasa said Treasury was approached for funding, adding that the SAWS urgently needed R30m in order to execute plans and systems to disseminate warnings to a larger audience.

He said up to 80% of disaster risk management financing and expenditure was often spent on response and recovery and "not on early warning systems of which the weather service is a key and strategic part".

The storm on Tuesday, which claimed the lives of eight people in KZN, has been classified as a supercell storm, which is the most intense class of a thunderstorm.

Three tornadoes were observed in Gauteng, Mpumalanga and the Free State.

Strong winds, hail

SAWS issued a weather watch on Sunday afternoon for Monday that severe thunderstorms would hit parts of the North West, eastern parts of the Free State, northern and central parts of KwaZulu-Natal and parts of Gauteng, Limpopo and Mpumalanga.

This was upgraded to a severe thunderstorm warning on Monday afternoon as thunderstorms moved into the Gauteng province from the west.

The system then moved rapidly east affecting KZN, Durban in particular, on Tuesday, with severe urban flooding and high winds. Durban alone saw 108mm of rain in a 24-hour period.

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