Large smoke plume from forest fires seen over the Mozambique Channel in September 2008.
25 May 2022
01 September 2008
By Rudzani Malala (South African Weather Service)
From the end of August to the beginning of September 2008 many people noticed the extreme weather developments across the globe and realised the importance of satellite data in monitoring weather events: two million people were evacuated in the US because of Hurricane Gustav; hundreds drowned in Indian floods and dozens died in Chinese earthquakes.
South Africa was not immune from these extreme weather events. 30–31 August was a devastating weekend for the country, with three different events occurring: 20 people died in the east in forest fires and strong winds; thousands stranded in the west and south with snowstorms, gale force winds and heavy rainfall and very cold temperatures and strong wind gusts were observed over the central parts of the country.
However, the South African forecasters handled the situation very well: using MSG; NWP models; the radar network, and the lightning detection network people were warned well in advance about strong winds and high temperatures that are favourable for runaway fires. Every precaution was taken but, even so, it was impossible to prevent the outbreak of fires as they were spreading in from other regions. The fires were so numerous that the smoke covered large parts of the Mozambique Channel (see image below; smoke is visible at low Sun angles due to strong forward scattering).
Met-9 channel 04 (IR3.9) image, 31 Aug, 13:00 UTC (source: SAWS)