Advancing Weather Forecasting in South Africa

South Africa has one of the world’s most effective weather forecasting and warning systems, providing accurate and important information to millions of citizens and strengthening climate resilience for a wide range of industries from agriculture to aviation. At the foundation of these efforts is the South African Weather Service (SAWS), which has relied upon the strategic implementation of American technological solutions following a 2012 USTDA reverse trade mission.

The visit brought SAWS officials to the United States to witness first-hand the advanced airport technologies and weather capabilities of U.S. providers – and observing the quality and performance of American meteorological equipment had a decisive impact on SAWS’s decision making. Through a competitive process, SAWS selected a high-performance computing system from Seattle, Washington-based Cray Inc. that the weather service leadership first viewed during the USTDA-funded visit. The system afforded SAWS high spatial resolution, which provides greater precision and accuracy for weather forecasts not only in South Africa, but also across all of southern Africa.

Since upgrading its Cray system in 2018, SAWS doubled its computing capabilities, which allows it to generate multiple scenarios for the same weather forecast. This capability increases SAWS’s forecasting confidence, providing better warning systems, enhanced public safety and insights into climate change that can strengthen its resilience to weather events. This investment also helped institute a model that allows SAWS to predict ocean waves, supporting the safety of the nation’s marine sector. Cray’s technology also made it possible for SAWS to become one of only 13 entities in the world to be designated as a Global Producing Centre of Long-Range Forecasts by the World Meteorological Organization — in recognition of SAWS’s ability to provide a range of global long-range forecasting products for climate adaptation and risk management.

“We have a staff that is second to none,” said SAWS Acting CEO Mnikeli Ndabambi. “Our people and our technology make for a powerfully effective combination, and that’s reflected in the global recognition that SAWS has received for its services. Our partnership with USTDA gave us the insights that we needed to make the best possible investment for the people of South Africa.”

Using American-made technology, South Africa has established itself as an authoritative voice for weather and climate forecasting throughout the world. Through our partnership-building events, USTDA is helping build connections and infrastructure that are built to last.