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Celebrating our weather heroes
Published on: Saturday, March 25, 2017

By Datuk Seri Panglima Wilfred Madius Tangau
RAIN or shine, the Malaysian public could always access the latest weather information from our Meteorological Department.

The Malaysian Meteorological Department, or MetMalaysia, an operational agency monitored by the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI), just celebrated World Meteorological Day last Thursday.

Held on March 23 every year, National Meteorological and Hydrological Services around the world celebrate this day to commemorate the Convention of the World Meteorological Organisation that resulted in the establishment of the World Meteorological Organisation.

As part of the United Nations headquartered in Switzerland, the Organisation has 191 members, of which Malaysia became one in 1958. Together through this organisation, meteorological services around world play a substantial role in protecting lives and property against natural disasters, conserving the environment and serve various industries important for a country’s economic growth, such as in agriculture, water resources and transportation.

The core services of MetMalaysia are in the areas of meteorology (atmosphere), seismology (earthquakes) and tsunami. The department issues early warnings of extreme weather, rough seas and possible tsunami threats to the public. They work closely with the National Disaster Management agency (NADMA).

The department started out as a unit under the Department of Survey in 1930; today each state has its own Meteorological Office as a one-stop centre in monitoring the weather and seismological activities.

There are 43 Main Meteorological Offices throughout the country, all of which operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The state meteorological office in Sabah is located at Wisma Dang Bandang, Kota Kinabalu.

The Sabah Weather and Earthquake Operations Center at the Kota Kinabalu International Airport provides weather forecast services to the aviation industry and public, also issuing earthquake information and tsunami warnings to them.

Following the 2015 Ranau earthquake, new seismic stations had been set up throughout the country, including in Sabah. These stations could detect and measure the magnitude of any earthquake tremors in a certain range.

The increase in the number of stations would allow faster and more accurate detection of an epicentre (focus) of an earthquake.

It is important to note that as of now, there is no reliable method of predicting the time, venue and magnitude of an earthquake accurately. Most seismological research and work globally is concerned with minimising risks in an earthquake and determining precursors that may lead to major earthquakes.

Earthquakes that occur underwater, at the bottom of the sea, is the main cause of tsunamis.

Since earthquakes cannot be forecasted, we would know when a tsunami could happen only after the earthquake occurs. After a large, potentially tsunamigenic earthquake occurs, computer modelling enables us to use the seismic data to forecast tsunami arrival times that in turn would help save many lives.

Our meteorological capabilities have come a long way. The advancement of ICT in the 90s especially, had digitalised the services in stages. Malaysia also participates in international programmes such as the Global Atmospheric Watch (GAW) of the World Meteorological Organisation.

The network of GAW stations globally carry out systematic monitoring of chemical components of the atmosphere and greenhouse gases, to scientifically forecast future atmospheric happenings and to help formulate environmental policy, such as in pollution and climate change.

Since 2003 MetMalaysia has been operating a GAW Global Station in Danum Valley, Sabah, and three regional ones in Cameron Highlands, Pahang, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, and in Bachok Marine Research Station, Kelantan.

Notably, the GAW in Danum Valley is one of the only five global stations in the tropics. Danum Valley’s relatively pollution-free environment is an ideal site for baseline measurement of the atmospheric constituents.

It is indeed Sabah’s pride.

To celebrate our weathermen, World Meteorological Day is held annually and often with a theme.

This year’s was on “Understanding Clouds”. We learned in school that clouds drive the water cycle.

There is more to clouds –clouds are also central to weather forecasts, understanding climate change and distribution of water resources.

In conjunction with the celebration the World Meteorological Organisation launched a new, digitalised edition of the International Cloud Atlas. It has its roots in the late 19th century and now, for the first time it would be accessible via computers and mobile devices.

This Atlas features several novel cloud types. Interestingly, clouds could be also classified into genera and species!

The Atlas recognises 10 cloud genera, defined by the location of their formation in the sky and their appearance.

The study of clouds has profound applications. For example, the prerequisite of carrying out cloud seeding, especially common during the haze season in Malaysia, is the availability of a specific type of cloud called the “towering cumulus cloud”.

Some of us are frequent air travellers such as I myself, and even if you have done only a few flight journeys, you might have experienced light to moderate turbulences. Pilots are trained to stay clear of a type of cloud called cumulonimbus clouds, which indicate thunderstorms and danger. We would hear the announcement that “hot drinks would not be served at the moment”.

On a lighter note, air travel had allowed me to appreciate the aesthetic appeal of clouds, especially during sunset, the skyscape outside of our plane windows could be one of the most picturesque! How many of us have a trove of cloud images in our phones taken during our flights?

We can expect weather modelling to be improved in the near future for more accurate weather forecasts but in the meantime, as the saying goes, “as unpredictable as the weather”, we have to have realistic expectations of the forecasts as they would not always be a hundred per cent accurate.

The public is also urged to always refer to official MetMalaysia sources to verify weather and earthquake news, and not spread bogus information that may cause panic in the community.

In the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Meteorological Departments around the globe are expected to play more crucial and exciting roles. Weather data would be an integral component in smart cities. There are already initiatives in leveraging on the Internet of Things (IoT) and cognitive computing power to personalised weather information for each citizen.

The science, technology and innovation therefore, would enable meteorological services to function beyond a mere information centre; rather, they would also be capable of warning us of the impact of an upcoming weather or climate. We would be well informed of our travel time, agricultural yield, delivery of goods and consequences of a natural disaster.

This is what I call “science, technology and innovation with a purpose”.

The World Meteorological Day reminded us of our weathermen’s service to the country and humanity, and how science has greatly advanced our meteorological strengths.

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