INTERVIEW WITH DR. AYMAN GHULAM
THE GENERAL AUTHORITY OF METEOROLOGY AND ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION
Could you give us an overview of the climate in Saudi Arabia and some of the challenges that you face?
It is kind of a mountainous area, desert, some farms. Farmers' areas make all the climate variabilities very difficult and complicated. We have a different system, we are neither sub-tropical or tropical. Our location is very complicated, this is why the climate patterns in Saudi Arabia are also complicated, and it is affected by some different systems comparing with the other parts of the world.
What are your most extreme challenges? I know that recently you had some flooding, is that unusual for Saudi Arabia?
Honestly, it is. If we take it in daily doses it is usual, because we had similar amounts before but this time the length of the rainfall was very long. For example, it started in mid-October but has continued until today and we are now at the beginning of December. This is why when we take the accumulative amounts of the rainfall, yes it is unusual but if we take it by 24 hours, no, it happens usually.
How do you respond to these challenges? What systems do you have in place to issue warnings?
Yes, indeed. The government usually develops its control ecosystems, and now we are developing our numerical weather model. Also, we have an early warning system which is automatic system connected with all governmental sectors which are affected by the weather. For the related sectors, like civil defence and education, we have, for example, a forecast of flooding, next day we would inform the Minister of Education to close the schools.
We have good early system warnings. Now we have good numerical weather predictions to give us a forecast for five days in advance but we are keen to start projects to develop other meteorological systems. For example, we would like to expand our observatory and implement or install lightning protectors in Saudi Arabia to help us in nowcasting system.
Have you seen much of a change, say, in the last ten years or so in terms of the climate, or the weather? Is there a noticeable change in the challenges, and the types of weather you’re experiencing?
Yes, of course. We have noticed that there is a shift in rainfall locations. For example in southwestern Saudi Arabia, we usually receive rain during the summer from the month of July but we had it in August, so there is one month’s shift. This is due to some changes in the shift of the climate regime and we have to align ourselves with these changes with our climate systems and climate methods. This is why we would like to have our own climate models in Saudi Arabia, which we don't have it now.
So is this something you’re hoping to do in the near future, increase your modelling capabilities?
Yes, modelling, weather modelling and also climate modelling so we can give season forecasts.
Would you be able to give us an overview of your responsibilities at the met service, and a background of how you got to that position?
We started the service back 1950s, and we joined the WMO at that time. Now we are the National Authority for Metrological Services, so we service aviation, civil aviation and the military. We serve the public, we serve marine services as well, and also we do public weather services. We do early warning systems for the governmental sector, and of course, with the climate, we offer climate services.
Also, we are running eight international centres here like the regional climate centre which serves Saudi Arabia and also the GCC. We have a work centre based on regional augment centre, this centre gives the aviation crossing Saudi Arabia, and the Middle East meteorological services. So these are some of our weather services in Saudi Arabia.
What are your responsibilities in the service?
I'm supervising all of these services, and make sure they comply with the WMO regulations, and rules, and I'm the PR of Saudi Arabia and also an executive member in the WMO. We need to have applied the rules and regulations of the WMO with our met services for aviation, and also to comply with the ISO 2015 as well.
Also, my role is to meet with the officers here in Saudi Arabia, high office, just to make them satisfied about our meteorological services, and we let them evaluate our services, and we develop it as they want.
You border many other countries, and you’re obviously a very key player in the region. How do you cooperate with some of your neighbouring countries in terms of weather and climate? Do you work together on various collaborations?
Yes, of course. First of all, if we are talking about the vicinities countries like the GCC countries, we are gathered in what is called the permanent panel of GCC countries. Also, we are a member of the Arab League and through this together indeed we are cooperating very strongly with each other.
For example, when war or these political problems affect countries, we see that the meteorological services are also affected. We should cooperate, and we can help those countries to rebuild their meteorological facilities.
Collaboration also helps us in our numerical weather predictions, because when we run our models we need boundary weather conditions and we need the bi-nation data. This means that we take it from the outer domain which covers the other countries, to our inner domain in Saudi Arabia.
Do you support met services to rebuild following a conflict?
Yes, of course. We do this through our eight international meteorological centres here. We also compare it with those meteorological centres regionally, nationally, and internationally as well.
What kind of equipment do you have in place in terms of radar, or weather stations? I assume it’s quite a strong network that you have.
We have an existing network. We have radar and 32 automatic weather stations but now as I said we are developing our services. We have some projects, that will initiate marine services, and we need marine observatory systems. Also, we are increasing our radar coverage to cover whole Saudi Arabia, and also the automatic weather station coverage. And also we would like to install for the first time lightning protectors along with some places in Saudi Arabia.
Yes, you obviously have quite a large coastline, the Gulf and the Red Sea and obviously, the Red Sea is a very important route for shipping, so it must be a big responsibility in terms of marine meteorology there as well.
Yes. As we are serving aviation, we should also serve the marine as well.
You mentioned you are looking to install lightning detection. What are your other main priorities in the next, say, five years or so?
We have Saudi Vision 2030 which is a famous exhibition now internationally. These visions are divided into phases. So the first phase should be finished by 2020, and now we are close to 2019, so in the coming year, or two years we should have finished some phases of our project. By 2030 we should implement all our energy checks in meteorological services. After that we have KPIs, and we will be monitored by high officers to make our KPIs very positive.
How do you handle the training of your staff? A lot of countries we speak to have a big challenge when it comes to trying to develop future meteorologists, and students to make sure the future is okay in terms of staff. How do you handle that, do you have training facilities, and do you have a university that does meteorology?
Yes, we are lucky to have a unique university in the Middle East, which has a meteorological department, which is King Abdulaziz University, in Jeddah. Unfortunately, the graduates from the university hold an academic certificate, but when they come to the meteorological services they need what is called skills learning, and in-depth training.
These kinds of training are not found in the university because universities usually deal with theories and what is written in the books. Honestly, Saudi Arabia is suffering from the lack, or non-existent training centres here in Saudi Arabia for meteorological services, especially on the job training. We would like to initiate a centre, this is one of our aims as well.
For the time being we are cooperating with those people who have, or those countries who have regional training centres, RTCs but sometimes we would like to customise our training, and we find it difficult to send those people our custom programmes.
In my opinion, I would like to change the schools of training, so if we had the chance to go to, for example, to the UK Met Office College, send some people then we go to British universities. It is these kinds of training which I encourage in Saudi Arabia. I like my people to train with different schools, American, Australian, UK, etc.
Is there anything else that you wanted to communicate out to the met community? Is there any other topics that you would like to speak about in terms of challenges, or anything in Saudi Arabia?
Yes, sure indeed the strategic plan now in the WMO is to open the door for private sectors, to progress meteorological services and meteorological work so my message to my colleagues, and the other meteorological services, and national centres, is that we now need to have the private sector working with us to develop our services. They have the money, and we, the national centres, we have the experience and the tools.