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FEATURE STORY

Forecasting the Weather, Protecting People and the Economy In Russia

September 14, 2011


Weather is expensive. The World Bank estimates weather-related disasters cost the Russian economy $1 to 2 billion a year.

World Bank Group

Vera Garkavaya lives next to a small, slow river in the foothills of the North Caucasus mountains in southern Russia. Though the river is often sleepy, flash floods roar down from the mountains two or three times a year. The water often reaches her first floor, destroying everything and leaving thick mud in its place. Sometimes, if the river rises quickly or without warning, she even loses her chickens to the water.

A devastating flood here in October 2010 killed 26 people, destroyed roads and bridges, and did millions of rubles' worth of damage.

Vera Garkavaya knows it can happen again. "If we have a good weather forecast, we can get documents and precious things up to the second floor, and the damage could be minimized," she says.


" An improved warning system is very important, and the next important thing is to communicate the dangers as quickly as possible. "

Alexander Bazelyuk

Head of North Caucasus RosHydromet Region

After years of underfunding and neglect, Russia's data collection was meager. From 1994 to 2000, RosHydromet, the country's meteorological center, operated on a fraction of what it needed to run properly. According to the World Bank, the central government's funding ranged from 28 to 41% of what RosHydromet needed. The lack of funding stalled staffing, operations, and investments in new equipment. The agency closed 30% of its data collection sites.

Now, RosHydromet is catching up.

Recently, with support from the World Bank, RosHydromet's use of new technology has blossomed. Computers now do much of the data collection; information from Russia's huge land mass is essential to forecasters worldwide. Every three hours, Russia transmits weather data to its headquarters in Moscow, to Tokyo, New Delhi, New York, and Offenbach, Germany.

"The data that we collect is processed, and the data is incorporated into forecasting weather patterns throughout the globe," says Svetlana Nikitina, who runs one of Moscow's weather information collection centers.

In the 1960s, Russia signed international agreements that tied it to global weather collection, dissemination, and modeling. Under the auspices, today, of the UN's World Meteorological Organization, Russia is one of three global centers tasked with compiling and distributing daily worldwide forecasts.

Weather is expensive. The World Bank estimates weather-related disasters cost the Russian economy $1 to 2 billion a year.

Faster warnings for floods, high winds, tornados, extreme heat and cold, will make Russian industry, from agriculture to transport, more competitive. And reliable weather data has a market of its own. Aviation, shipping, power companies and the like need, and will pay for, long-term forecasts to keep operations running smoothly.

In Vera Garkavaya's village, weather warnings are not about big business, but about neighbors and friends. Victor Yegerev, the deputy head of the local emergency commission, says, "It is very important to improve the forecasting system, we'll reduce the danger to people and the loss of property."

Alexander Bazelyuk, of RosHydromet, agrees. "An improved warning system is very important, and the next important thing is to communicate the dangers as quickly as possible."

Since RosHydromet began upgrading its equipment and data collection, officials in the North Caucasus say they're able to issue severe weather warnings in half the time it took only a few years ago.

"It is very important to help people get ready, protect the livestock, the cattle, to protect life. The more warning, the better," Vera Garkavaya's neighbor, Vladimir Kuropachenko, says.

And here, accurate weather forecasts are especially neccessary. In addition to floods, local officials say, the North Caucasus is home to about 25 major weather crises a year.


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