Elita Chikwati / Ellen Chasokela, Harare Bureau
Citizens have been urged to take precautionary measures against heavy rains, in excess of 50 millimetres in 24 hours coupled with hail, strong winds and lightning starting from today.
Manicaland, Matabeleland South, Masvingo and southern areas of Midlands could be the most seriously affected according to the Meteorological Services Department (MSD)’s forecast. Rains will be accompanied by strong winds, lightning, hail and flash flooding.
The uprooting of trees and damage to infrastructure cannot be ruled out.
Drains may fail to cope in urban or built-up settings while visibility may be compromised especially for drivers, during the heavy downpours.
While Manicaland, Matabeleland South, Masvingo, as well as southern areas of Midlands Province are forecast to receive heavy rains today similar conditions will spread northward tomorrow.
“Thereafter, the rains should steadily ease off giving way to bright and showery conditions in most areas, with a possibility of localised heavier falls over Mashonaland East into northern parts of Manicaland,” said the MSD in a statement.
According to the MSD, insecure home roofs, schools and shopping centres could be blown off by strong winds while asbestos roofing could be perforated by hail in some instances, potentially endangering occupants.
The public has been advised to avoid being caught outdoors during the heavy storms, more so at night, when flood waters are difficult to see.
MSD has advised people to avoid crossing flooded rivers and swollen streams where the depth is unknown. “The Department will continue monitoring the conditions and update the public accordingly. The public is also being requested to provide feedback or information on disasters through the Department’s Twitter, WhatsApp or Facebook page,” said the MSD.
Zimbabwe has been experiencing heavy falls in most parts of the country resulting in the deaths of six people now while property and crops have also been destroyed.
With more violent storms and associated high winds, hailstorms and flash floods likely, the MSD will now issue more detailed impact-based weather information to reduce injuries to the public and damage to infrastructure.
The forecast will now give customised information on the weather event, the time frame, mapping, possible preventive measures or how to manage, if the event cannot be avoided.
Reports will also give case studies of where it happened in the past and how it was managed.
The start of the rainy season has been marked by more violent storms than usual for this time of the year, largely as a result of the extra energy pumped into the atmosphere during the recent spell of record heatwaves.
This has led to bursts of very high winds, caused by downflows from the storm clouds, that have ripped off roofs, uprooted trees, and injured people with flying debris.
There has already been damage to electricity lines by falling trees and other infrastructure damage. Lightning, as with every season, is a danger for unprotected people, livestock and electric installations. Intense downpours have caused flash flooding, when run-off exceeds the capacity of the land to absorb the rainfall or when storm water drains are inadequate.
The Met Department is now giving the public the forecast of the weather event, largely storms at this time of the year, its causes, when it is likely to occur, how it will happen, dangers associated with the phenomenon and what the public should do to protect themselves.
Specific weather information is also given for the agriculture sector, aviation and those in seismology (dealing with earthquakes). There are efforts by the MSD to also incorporate the mining, water and health sectors. The MSD is working on an agreement with the national broadcaster, ZBC, to ensure that when there is threatening weather the announcement will override any other programmes and be published instantly. The recent violent storms have already killed one person, injured several others and damaged infrastructure and property in many parts of the country.
The MSD issued advisories of these isolated events informing the public of the thunderstorms.
In an interview on Monday MSD principal meteorologist, Mr James Ngoma said the energy created by the high temperatures was transformed when extra moisture came into the atmosphere, resulting in lightning, strong winds, hailstorms and sharp intense downpours. He said as the rainfall season progresses, the country will be faced with the threat of flash floods since the ground will be saturated. Urban areas will also see such flash floods, because so much ground is built over, if drains are not kept clear and properly maintained. These early season storms have also brought high rainfall to some areas.
Kwekwe received 132mm in 24 hours, Chibero 57mm, Chivi 72mm and Binga 51mm. Mr Ngoma said these were isolated incidents that were not localised.
“For the past days we have experienced strong winds that destroyed roofs and damaged properties. Lightning affects people, livestock, buildings and electrical infrastructure.
“Flash flooding occurred in Buhera, Kwekwe, Masvingo and Lupane among some areas. We had given advisories of the potential of lightning and the sharp downpours. When it’s localised we give specific warnings,” he said.
Mr Ngoma said for advisories, the department gives daily forecasts. “We have gone beyond weather information. We now give the impact. Giving the effects of the weather for instance the violence associated with the storms, heat stroke that may affect people due to high temperatures, for frost we give the damage that may be caused to crops. We are trying to drive this forward. We are not ending at the forecast but the impact of the forecast. We urge the public to read the whole forecast. We are now giving colour coded format, giving the pictorial advisory that is eye catching and captivating to the audience,” he said.
Mr Ngoma said they give their weather updates on television, Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter.
“For viewers in remote areas who cannot access that data, we are still giving them information through the radio or in text format. We disseminate information in different channels. We work with the ZBC using their radio stations,” he said.
“We are also working closely with the Department of Civil Protection (DCP) as they have structures from ward level to disseminate information.”
Mr Ngoma said farmers receive a rainfall bulletin, an agromet bulletin which is realised in 10 days and gives a forecast that helps farmers prepare and plan, and a 10 day seasonal forecast. Farmers also get a monthly update of the forecast.