Solidarity and skill triumph over devastation of earthquake, pandemic

Accurate weather forecasts are critically important for community safety, particularly during times of crisis.

Tuesday, 07 April 2020

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So, when Croatia's national meteorological service infrastructure was badly damaged during the 22 March Zagreb earthquake, while the coronavirus pandemic had much of Europe in "lock-down", creative thinking and skill were required.

Satellite data and weather forecasts

Satellite observations are critical inputs for computer modelling of the weather and EUMETSAT supplies a significant proportion of those observations to its 30 Member States, including Croatia.

Almost all of EUMETSAT's workers are currently working from home, apart from those responsible for controlling the organisation's 10 satellites in orbit.

Keeping the satellites operating as normal, so that their data can be received, processed and disseminated to meteorological services around Europe and beyond, remains critically important, even in times like these.

Croatia's call

On 22 March, a 5.3 magnitude earthquake struck just north of Croatia's capital, Zagreb. It was the strongest earthquake to strike the country in 140 years.

The Croatian Meteorological and Hydrological Service (DHMZ) has its headquarters in Zagreb. The premises was so badly damaged staff could not enter.

"Croatia called for help, explaining that their data centre was affected by the earthquake and they would like emergency support until their recovery site is up," EUMETAT Data Services Competence Area Manager Lothar Wolf said.

The European Weather Cloud

EUMETSAT and the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) based in Reading, in the UK, are working on a joint project to make their data accessible to users through a common big data services infrastructure .

The European Weather Cloud would make EUMETSAT and ECMWF data and products available more easily accessible to all meteorological data users, including meteorological services, at a time when their computer modelling can ingest vastly increased amounts of information. In addition, EUMETSAT is currently gearing up for the deployment of its next-generation satellite systems, which will produce exponentially more data.

But the European Weather Cloud is still in its pilot stage and had not yet been used to support a Member State's meteorological service.

Delivering what's needed in a time of lock-down

Communicating via a WhatsApp group and Skype, a core group at EUMETSAT worked on delivering what the DHMZ needed.

"We asked them for their requirements, which included a virtual computing environment – a number of virtual machines - data from EUMETSAT, training, and support, as well as access to the ECMWF's forecast and archive data," Wolf said.

"The group at EUMETSAT discussed the requirements and assigned who was doing what, then each part of the group got on with it, accessing all of the necessary elements remotely.

"EUMETSAT has provided an emergency backup for Croatia for when they switch from their damaged headquarters infrastructure to their recovery site."

The group was able to set up the necessary arrangements for the DHMZ in just four hours!

Solidarity

Wolf said the team members were all extremely pleased to be able to help. The ECMWF also stepped up to provide access to their European Weather Cloud infrastructure and technical support when needed.

EUMETSAT Head of Strategy, Communication and International Relations Paul Counet said the ability to provide support for Croatia at such a time and under such conditions had boosted the morale of everyone at the organisation.

"These are extremely challenging and stressful times for everyone," Counet said. "The earthquake in Croatia was a terrible blow at an already difficult time.

"The importance of what we do – providing meteorological services with the data they need to keep their communities safe – cannot be overstated. So, I am particularly glad EUMETSAT was able to rise to this challenge and deliver for one of our Member States in its time of need."

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