Using satellite data to identify and track intense thunderstorms in South and southern Africa

  • Estelle de Coning South African Weather Service – Research, Pretoria, South Africa
  • Morne Gijben South African Weather Service – Research, Pretoria, South Africa
  • Bathobile Maseko South African Weather Service – Research, Pretoria, South Africa
  • Louis van Hemert South African Weather Service – Research, Pretoria, South Africa
Keywords: geostationary satellite, remote sensing, lightning, data sparse regions


To issue warnings of thunderstorms, which have the potential for severe weather elements such as heavy rainfall and hail, is a task of all weather services. In data sparse regions, where there is no or limited access to expensive observation systems, satellite data can provide very useful information for this purpose. The Nowcasting Satellite Application Facility in Europe developed software to identify and track rapidly developing thunderstorms (RDT) using data from the geostationary Meteosat Second Generation satellite. The software was installed in South Africa and tested over the South African as well as the southern African domain. The RDT product was validated by means of 20 case studies. Over the South African region, validation was done by means of visual comparison to radar images as well as in a quantitative manner against the occurrence of lightning. Visual comparisons between the RDT product and images from satellite data as well as the occurrence of heavier rainfall were done over areas outside South Africa. Good correlations were found between the identified storms and the occurrence of lightning over South Africa. Visual comparisons indicated that the RDT software can be useful over the southern African domain, where lightning and radar data are not available. Very encouraging results were obtained in the 20 case studies. The RDT software can be a valuable tool for general and aviation forecasters to warn the public of pending severe weather, especially in areas where other data sources are absent or not adequate.

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