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NCAR Strategic Priority: Building New Connections with Researchers in Developing Nations

Building Capacity in Developing Countries

RAL has led three recent projects focused on West Africa and the Sahel: 1) improvement of a modest radar network and data-distribution system within Burkina Faso and Mali; 2) development of a part­nership among UCAR, the Ghana Meteorological Agency, and the Ghana university community to develop an opera­tional Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model for West Africa; and 3) conduct of a recent workshop in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso from April 2-6, 2007, for which the theme was “Improving Lives by Understanding Weather” (  These activities are summarized below.

FY2007 Accomplishments:

West Africa radarFigure 1. West Africa weather-radar coverage (circles). See text for details.

Work has begun to develop an operational network of weather radars in West Africa, beginning with Burkina Faso, Mali, and Senegal. In all three countries, existing (and sometimes non-operational) radars are being rehabilitated and upgraded with simple personal-computer-based software systems that allow the radars to be controlled and maintained with only minimal engineering support. In addition, two of the radars are using Unidata software, developed at UCAR, to deliver operational data through a web interface. Finally, Mali and Burkina Faso have signed an MOU pledging to share radar data with each other, using the same Unidata software. Figure 1 shows the coverage of some of the radars. More information about the radar project in West Africa can be found at

WRF forecast domainsFigure 2. WRF forecast domains for the operational modeling system, with example forecast products on the two inner grids. The grid increments on D1, D2, and D3 are 40.5, 13.5 and 4.5 km, respectively. The forecasts are 48 in duration on D1 and D2, and 36 h on D3.

Currently, only a few African countries are running mesoscale models operationally.  Most of these models, however, were developed for research, or have not been adapted for African weather. Also, many of the mesoscale models are proprietary, and this makes it difficult to “tune” them to accurately represent local phenomena or customize their output according to local users’ needs.  Through the African Initiative we are adapting the WRF model to better meet local and regional needs.  WRF offers a variety of advantages: it is available free of charge over the web; it can be used for weather and climate research as well as operational forecasting; it can be run at very high resolutions; it possesses numerous physics options; it has a vigorous community of users whose members share ideas and solutions to problems; it is technically supported at NCAR; and formal training is available for new users. Most importantly, it is designed to be customized and adapted, and so provides an ideal platform with which to develop a mesoscale model for Africa. The first step is already done: a WRF-based operational forecasting system, with the highest resolution focused on West Africa (see Fig. 2), has been established. As a second step, operational forecasters in Ghana and surrounding countries are providing input about forecast strengths and weaknesses, and improvements are being made.

The “Improving Lives by Understanding Weather” conference, held in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso on 2-6 April 2007, sponsored by Programme Saaga in Burkina Faso, the Meteorological Services in Mali and Burkina Faso, and the UCAR AI, was attended by over 80 participants from 18 countries. The main purpose of the conference was to explore ways to increase the value and use of meteorolog­ical data and models for the economic and societal benefit of countries in the Sahel. A second purpose was to bring together researchers, government ministers, operational forecasters, and university professors from across the Sahel to outline common problems and potential projects. Finally, the conference provided a means for UCAR to begin to fulfill the AI’s ideal of “African solutions to African problems,” by learning about the context of African meteorological activity. A summary of the conference can be found at

Long-Term Plans:

MOUs have been signed between UCAR and Burkina Faso, Ghana, and Senegal which look to a variety of cooperative meteorological and hydrological activities in the future.   Task order agreements are currently being negotiated with both Burkina Faso and Senegal to begin small radar upgrade and training programs.  The long-range goal in numerical weather prediction is to develop capacity in Africa, such that WRF is running operationally in Africa, is maintained by Africans, and is being adapted by Africans to meet their specific needs.