Bangladesh has a long history of deadly and costly storms. Among the most worrying are kalbaishakhismall but powerful storm cells that tend to hit the country in the spring. Kalbaishakhi were responsible for a 1989 tornado said to be the deadliest in world history, as well as a 2021 wedding party lightning strike that killed 17 people. Because these storms are so localized, they can be notoriously difficult to predict, especially without access to the most advanced weather forecasting technology.
“Bangladesh is a hotspot for high-impact weather events – intense rainfall, destructive wind and hail, frequent lightning strikes and cyclones,” said Azizur Rahman, director of the Bangladesh Meteorological Department (BMD). “And the science is clear: Due to climate change, these high-impact weather events will be more frequent and intense in the future.”
Researchers have created a new tool to strengthen the country’s ability to predict kalbaishakhi and other bad weather. The US SERVIR program and the BMD recently launched the High-Impact Weather Assessment Toolkit (HIWAT), a web-based tool (shown below) that integrates data from NASA Earth observation satellites with local observations from the BMD to improve weather forecasts. . The project was led by Patrick Gatlin, a research meteorologist at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, with SERVIR’s Hindu-Kush Himalaya team at the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).
The reliability of weather forecasts largely depends on the quality of geographical coverage of weather stations. If a country has only a few weather stations, and if those stations don’t have long records, meteorologists don’t have as much context to guide future forecasts.
Bangladesh has a short history of weather data collection, and until recently the country lacked public funding for the satellites and powerful computers needed to run advanced prediction models. Without these resources, BMD forecasters were looking for additional data.
“Due to process limitations as well as BMD’s facilities, we were unable to provide lightning forecasts appropriately,” said Abdul Mannan, meteorologist at BMD’s Storm Warning Center. The map above, derived from HIWAT data, shows a lightning forecast for May 16-19, 2022, during a storm in Bangladesh.
HIWAT feeds data from NASA’s Global Precipitation Measurement Mission and other sources into the forecasting process, providing BMD meteorologists with a more comprehensive and detailed data set. These inputs can help produce more reliable forecasts and allow scientists to predict hazards that were previously more difficult to anticipate, such as lightning and hail. At the time of the launch of HIWAT, the Bangladeshi government also announced that it would provide BMD with powerful computer servers to further improve the speed and reliability of the forecasts.
SERVIR is a joint program of NASA and the United States Agency for International Development. Researchers collaborate with geospatial organizations in Asia, Africa, and Latin America to support decision-making in climate adaptation and natural resource management. SERVIR also helps partners design satellite tools to solve problems such as air quality and disaster management.
Because forecasts are essential for decision-making in many sectors, especially agriculture or disaster management, weather and climate services are essential to SERVIR’s mission. SERVIR and BMD want HIWAT to not only enable better forecasts, but also better public safety warnings as communities prepare for climate change.
NASA Earth Observatory image by Lauren Dauphin, using data from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) High Impact Weather Assessment Toolkit (HIWAT) team and the SERVIR Applied Science Team from NASA. Story by Jake Ramthun, SERVING, with Mike Carlowicz.