Flying through Safe Skies


The Sosoliso plane crash of December 10, 2005, one of the most tragic accidents in Nigeria, was caused by bad weather (low level wind shear). What made the accident very tragic was because most of those, who lost their lives in the air accident. According to reports, the crash could have been averted if the pilot adhered to weather information from the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET), directing airlines to delay flights into that airspace until the unfavourable weather disappeared. Most pilots, until recently, flouted weather reports because then were not reliable.

The failure of the pilot to adhere to weather information, resulted in the plane crash, which killed about 108 out of the 110 passengers onboard. In fact, the accident occurred as the aircraft was about to land
to the Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa in adverse weather – wind shear, occasioned by rain and lightning.

The Sosoliso plane crash, compelled the federal government to
effect a lot of changes in the aviation industry, including the release of funds for the upgrading of the airport facilities and the acquisition of the first Doppler Weather Radar for accurate reading of wind shear.

There were other weather related air crashes like the ADC Flight 53, which crashed shortly after it took off from the Abuja airport, killing the 97
passengers, including the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Maccido and his son.
To curb similar accidents, NIMET has since then, made significant efforts to improve weather prediction and to ensure that pilots strictly adhere to weather information.

Weather Vulnerability

On March 13, 2016, the Aero flight that was billed to depart Calabar to Lagos at about 2:05 pm had to delay for 10 minutes owing to adverse weather condition. The pilot had informed the passengers that the flight would be delayed for 10 minutes because weather report indicated thunderstorm on the departure route. According to one of the passengers onboard the flight, immediately after 10 minutes, the pilot took off and landed in Lagos 55 minutes after; however, amid turbulence while flying through the Calabar airspace.

The Director General of the NIMET , Dr. Anthony Anuforom said that since the Sosoliso crash, the agency has acquired equipment to accurately predict the weather and has also trained personnel to effectively understand and interpret weather conditions.

Last week, NIMET had a public presentation on the 2016 Seasonal Rainfall Prediction (SRP) in Abuja, where Anuforom noted that global warming has jolted the ecosystem and that adequate attention should be given to the dynamics of weather, especially by the aviation sector, the agricultural sector, the maritime industry and others.

“NIMET’s Seasonal Rainfall Prediction is part of the agency’s meteorological early warning system, containing rainfall and temperature outlook for the year, as well as the possible socio-economic implications of the projected weather patterns. It is designed to provide relevant information for planning and execution of projects and programmes in various sectors of the economy, especially those that are sensitive to weather. Agriculture, air transpiration, infrastructure construction, telecommunication, water resources are particularly sensitive to weather variability. The SRP is therefore a potent decision-support tool for stakeholders in these sectors,” Anuforom said.

The theme of this year’s SRP Presentation was: “The Impact of Weather Variability and Climate Change on Transportation Infrastructure and Agriculture in Nigeria.”

Anuforom said the theme was chosen because of the pivotal role transportaion and agriculture play in the implementation of government’s economic reform programme and the possible impact of rainfall variability on achieving the set goals.

Global Warming and Climate Change

Anuforom said despite the controversies and doubts that trail them, the global warming and climate change are real.

He said: “Global warming and climate change are real; their manifestations in the form of unusual, violent weather phenomena are evident and constitute threats to sustainable development. I believe that it is in recognition of this fact that President Muhammadu Buhari in his inauguration speech and also at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York, as well as the UNFCCC Conference of Parties in Paris 2015, stated that Nigeria will join hands with other nations to take actions to combat climate change and its impact on Nigerian citizens.”

The NIMET boss stated that weather and climate data produced by NIMET are critical for combating climate change through adaptation and mitigation strategies. He noted that unusual weather and extreme climate phenomena are still very much in existence, noting that Nigeria’s rainfall pattern indicated that the rainfall in the country this year would be characterised by late on-set, early cessation and lower-than-normal rainfall in many parts of the country, especially in the northernmost parts.

“Also dry spells during the rainy season may be more frequent and severe in many parts of the north, while the “little dry season’ or August break in parts of the south are expected to be pronounced. These are risky factors for farmers in the affected areas and has to be carefully and scientifically managed,” the Director General said.

However, Anuforom explained that the expected lower-than-normal rainfall in parts of the country does not rule out the possibility of isolated flash floods due to high intensity rainfall at the peak of the season, especially in places that are naturally prone to flooding.

Weather and Inter-modal Transport System

The Minister of State for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika disclosed that the federal government is developing an integrated inter-modal transport system that includes air, land and water that would maximise the transportation of goods, raw materials and people.

“This involves construction of aviation, rail and highway infrastructure that link major cities and centres of economic activities. All these activities and programmes are sensitive to weather and climate variability. In this age of frequent and intense weather extremes, occasioned by global warming and climate change, NIMET’s weather and climate predictions provide useful information for reducing losses, and taking advantage of favourable weather conditions to achieve more efficient and effective implementation of such programmes and projects.”

Sarika said right from inception the present administration has shown commitment to combating climate change and reducing its impact on Nigerians. He promised that the federal government is also committed to implementing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) as well as Paris Agreement on climate change.

Furthermore, he said, the availability of accurate and timely meteorological data was critical for combating climate change as well as achieving the SDG in Nigeria.

“The role of NIMET in these regard is therefore unequivocal and I assure Nigerians that the Federal Ministry of Transportation will continue to support NIMET to discharge this responsibility to the nation,” Sirika said.

He added: “Our past experiences in Nigeria show that we are highly vulnerable to extreme weather phenomena. For instance, the 1972/73 drought drastically reduced the contribution of agriculture to GDP in Nigeria from 18.4 per cent in 1971/72 to 7.3 per cent in 1972,73.

“It was also reported that about 300,000 animals, representing 13 per cent of livestock population in North-East Nigeria at the time were estimated to have died as a result of the drought. The 2012 flood disaster directly affected 30 states in Nigeria, killed 363, injured 5,851 and displaced 3, 871, 053 persons due to the resulting floods. The total value of destroyed physical and durable assets caused by the floods in the most affected states was estimated to have reached N1.48 trillion.”

Early Warning Information

The minister also said that losses to extreme weather phenomena could be minimised by using early warning information such as NIMET’s seasonal rainfall prediction, recalling that in 2012, NIMET released the prediction about the likelihood of flooding several months earlier.

“Unfortunately, however, adequate preparations were not made, and the flood inflicted heavy devastation when it came later in that year. This year, NIMET’s prediction has indicated the likelihood of delayed onset and less-than-normal rainfall in several parts of the country. We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the past by ignoring the early warning.

“It is important for all stakeholders to take necessary precautions to reduce the negative impacts, especially on agriculture and water resources, in the event that this prediction becomes a reality. It is also important to ensure that our national infrastructural development projects are climate resilient. This is the trend all over the world in response to the challenges of climate change,” Sirika said.

In the last six years, NIMET has acquired hi-tech equipment and also built a laboratory in order to enhance accurate weather prediction.

Few years ago the federal government had commissioned the National Weather Forecasting and Climate Research Centre (NWFCRC) thereby signaling the commencement of operations of Weather and Climate services by NIMET for air security and safety and the provision of effective weather and climate information for the overall development of the country’s agriculture and socio economic sectors.

Anuforom stated then that Nigeria can no longer be left behind in the realisation of the fact that Climate change and its negative impacts on human society are real.
The DG stated that observational data collected by NIMET and other agencies have shown that since the past three decades, there have been changes in the rainfall pattern in most parts of the country.

“We have also observed increasing trends in thunderstorms and lightening.” Anuforo added for instance that the Sahara Desert is encroaching deep into the country at a fast rate as Lake Chad has been sinking, while lives and property are lost due to flooding in several parts of the country. According to him, the country’s coastal areas are under threat of being submerged due to the rising sea level.
Underscoring the extent of damage to the environment, Anuforom said these meteorological hazards constitute major threats to the socioeconomic development of the country as it is in other parts of the world.

According to reports, over, 36.6 per cent of air accidents, globally is caused by adverse or unfavourable weather. It has therefore become very critical that accurate weather report must be issued to guide the pilots to fly safely.