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Weather forecasting faces limitations

Update: September, 22/2014 - 08:59

Viet Nam lacks qualified weather forecasting experts, Phan Van Tan, a lecturer at the Ha Noi University of Natural Science's Faculty of Hydrology and Meteorology, told Hai Quan (Customs) newspaper.

What is your assessment of the quality of our weather forecasting nowadays?

Generally speaking, our weather forecasting has improved quite a lot, particularly forecasting for the next 24 hours. However, forecasting for the next 48 or 72 hours is not really reliable. It should serve as a reference or warning.

In addition, viewers of weather forecasts should have some knowledge of the weather in order to use the forecast more effectively. For example, on the formation of a new tropical storm, even for an advanced weather station, the absolute error of the eye of the storm within the next 24 hours may reach 120 to 150 kilometres; within the next 48 hours, it will be 200 to 250 metres; and within the next 72 hours, it will be 96 metres or larger. When we talk about the eye of the storm from several hundred kilometres away, people should already take precautions, particularly if the storm's pathway is along the coastline, like in the case of tropical storm Haiyan in 2013. In such a case, we should give the warning along our coastline, from the provinces of Quang Nam in the central region to Quang Ninh in the northern region.

In the context of climate change nowadays, what are the challenges that the weather forecasting sector is facing?

Viet Nam has already felt the impact of climate change through changes in annual temperature. The weather is getting hotter and hotter and the difference in climate between North and South Viet Nam will grow because of changes in the monsoon season. The temperature of the sea surface is also changing because of the impact of climate change. As a result, sea water circulation has also altered. This has made weather forecasting more difficult and complicated. Right now, I'm afraid Viet Nam cannot anticipate what the changes will be. Will the changes follow a certain pattern or not?

The storm path depends on two basic factors: first, the air from external and internal storm areas; second, the storm's intensity.

At present, all mathematical models seem to have reached their limits regarding the storm's orbit while the forecast of storm intensity remains a big challenge for various reasons, including a thorough understanding of the storm's physical mechanism and dynamics or climate change impact.

Also, one very important factor that we should remember is our weather observation data, which is very limited, particularly in far-away oceans.

So in your opinion, what should we do to make our weather forecast more accurate?

This is the anxiety of the whole world, not only of Viet Nam. I think, the first thing we have to do right now is to further extend our observation network and improve the quality of our observation work. To do this, we need to have more satellite equipment.

We can buy equipment or mathematical models, but not people, to read and analyse the data. What's your position on this issue?

We need to improve both the material basis, including the most advanced mathematical models, and the human resources. I still remember that in the 1970s, we had a very good contingent of hydrology and meteorology staff and many good mathematical models. But we didn't have equipment or computers. Now, we can buy equipment, and of course, we need money. But the most difficult issue for Viet Nam now is experts to perform the job.

It seems that the hydrology and meteorology sector is not attractive to Vietnamese students. What do you say about this fact as a professor teaching the subject?

This is a really difficult issue, I can't deny it. Hydrology and meteorology are difficult sciences. It requires the learners or students to be good at natural science, like math and physics. But it is not a hot subject like that of foreign trade, economics, finance or banking. So in my opinion, we have to estimate the number of students we need to take into the sector for each year, so that after graduation, they will be able to find jobs immediately. This is a very important factor!

Don't you think the salary must be lucrative for them?

Yes. But salary is a long story. — VNS

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