Rain or shine, weather forecasters here to stay

National 4 minutes, 39 seconds

BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

WEATHER forecasting is not the typical career Bruneians choose, but recent storms and climate change raise questions whether there is a need to train more people to improve the country’s weather warning system.

There are currently four local meteorologists and three qualified forecasters, according to the Brunei Darussalam Meteorological Department (BDMD).

Two of the forecasters are Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) graduates with a Bachelor in Mathematics. They were also sent for training in Malaysia, the United Kingdom and Philippines.

Harnina Morani, one of the duty forecasters, said she has been working at the department for eight years.

She underwent training in United Kingdom after the department employed her.

“I saw the advertisement in Pelita Brunei, and found it interesting at the time because being a duty forecaster was not well-known,” she said.

Harnina added that working as a weather forecaster is interesting and satisfying.

“It is very satisfying if you get the forecast correct, with combined knowledge and training. Not many people get to do this job and there are only a handful of us in Brunei doing it as it is a niche profession. Every day is not the same and you get to predict the weather on a daily basis.”

She said if Bruneians enjoy challenges and solving problems, working in the Meteorological Department would be an area for them to pursue a career.

The Meteorological Department on its website said weather services in Brunei started in the late 1950s for aviation activities.

It addded that the demand for meteorological services had grown over the years, and that its weather forecast office provides warnings, forecast and advisories for the public.

Another forecaster, Mohd Affindi Hj Sabli, said he was sent by the department to be trained in the Philippines once he was employed.

“Every day is interesting working here and sometimes challenging. I think more Bruneians should have a career as a meteorological officer because we need more forecasters and experts,” he said.

On July 10, strong winds brought by Typhoon Chan-hom ripped off the roofs of about 50 houses in Brunei and left many fallen trees in its wake, disrupting power lines and plunging many villages into darkness.

The Meteorological Department recorded speeds reaching 56km per hour. The wind gusts were triple the sultanate’s average of 10 to 20km per hour.

Every year, UBD said about 10 of its Discovery Year programme students undergo internship at the department for experiential learning.

The university has also offered weather and climate modules as well as workshops on weather prediction modelling.

Last year, UBD conducted a module for 12 local participants including students and staff from BDMD and the National Disaster Management Centre (NDMC).

UBD and the IBM Centre (UBD|IBM) are currently involved in a three-year partnership to develop precision weather forecast models.

According to a UBD spokesperson, UBD|IBM has been working closely with the Meteorological Department.

The department acquires information from the UBD|IBM Deep Thunder model BlueGene P SuperComputer, the first of its kind in Southeast Asia, to generate weather forecasts at a resolution of 1.5km by 1.5km.

IBM’s website said the goal of using a Blue Gene-P system is to show specific conditions in an area as small as 1.5 x 1.5 square km, and reflect changes over 10-minute increments for a 48-hour period.

UBD’s IBM Blue Gene/P supercomputer is a mainframe computer capable of rapidly processing complex calculations.

According to UBD, they share this forecasted information with the Brunei Darussalam Meteorological Department.

“At the same time, we receive ground-based observation data from BDMD, which is used for verification and improvement of subsequent model forecasts,” said the spokesperson, who did not want to be named.

The UBD|IBM Centre and BDMD are also working on an international project named ‘Southeast Asia Climate Analysis and Modelling’, sponsored by the Climate Change Research Singapore for future climate projections of Southeast Asian countries.

With the project, UBD and BDMD are actively working towards enhancing the accuracy of forecasted information.

Dr Sandhya Aneja, a researcher at UBD, previously said the model is already in use through the UBD|IBM Centre’s mobile application for alert systems.

In a 2013 report, he said the application was already in use and its developments were known to government agencies working in disaster management.

In November 2012, the UBD|IBM Centre conducted a training workshop on flood forecasting using UBD’s supercomputing facilities to address and tackle challenges in planning and developing strategies for better environmental management.

Its forecasting projects hope to predict weather patterns in the country for up to 50 years, while flood forecasting systems aim to provide a flood warning time of 18 hours.

A private sector employee, who asked to be named Fran, said it would be good for those interested in furthering knowledge in this area to do research and be trained in forecasting, rather than relying on others to help the country.

“It would also be something new to introduce in UBD. I think it is beneficial to the country as weather nowadays is very unpredictable and is constantly changing. This way, at least we are prepared for emergencies in the future,” she said.

Meanwhile, Lee, 30, said he does not think introducing a weather forecasting course at Brunei universities is necessary.

“There definitely needs to be someone to forecast the weather, but do we really need to produce 50 weather forecasters every year? I think that is irrelevant,” he said.

“Forecasting is one thing, but disaster management is another. There is no point forecasting when messages do not get across or when there is no reliable plan of action,” he added.

The Brunei Times