We sat down with Keithley Meade, Director General of the Antigua & Barbuda Meteorological Services to talk about their current monitoring capabilities and their plans to upgrade in the future
Would you be able to give you a little bit of a history of the met service in Antigua and Barbuda?
It started in the mid-40s as weather observing station and it was introduced and manned by the British. After that, it came under the control of the Antigua and Barbuda government sometime around 1965. Again, it was just as a weather observation station. From then on, it developed into a forecasting office sometime around 1967 and the development at that time, was mainly due to the expanding aviation industry at the time.
And so, it remained like that and then as time went along, it developed further. It is now a fully functioning meteorological centre and we provide a number of services on a daily basis. We continued to serve the aviation industry, but we also do the weather observations and public weather forecast for Antigua and Barbuda. And also, for Leeward Island and I think the British Virgin Islands, so these are public metro forecast. We also have daily forecast as well as providing weather briefing, flight information, severe weather warnings and climatological data collection.
Do you think you can then give me a bit of an overview of the type of climate in Antigua, and the climate challenges that you tend to have to face?
The biggest challenge that we will tend to find as for climate in Antigua, is rainfall. The islands are really dry. Antigua receives around 45 inches annually, that's across the islands. And Barbuda, closer to around 35 inches. So as you get to these, are really dry islands. We have in effect two seasons. We have the wet season and dry season. And so, our dry season, will tend to go from say around December, down to June but not including May. And then a wet season, will start from July down to November. May then sometimes can produce some peak rainfalls, very heavily rainfalls, sometimes do remains really dry.
There’s a bit of anomaly in the data, but it presents itself as a peak in the rainfall graph. Those are our dry seasons and those are our wet season. We tend to have, during the dry season, the rainfall that we would get would be like since December to June, usually from these cold fronts. As the tail end of these cold fronts sweeps across the Atlantic, we’ll tend to get some rainfall.
After that in June, then it's due to tropical waves and any other type of tropical activity that comes. Relative humidity, temperature, would normally be in mid-70s. Temperature, is usually around 27 degreeCelsius or so and the max it can go is as high as 34 usually from August to September and as low as 20 to 24, usually from December to March.
The wind direction is generally from the east, but really between east and the southeast, with speeds of around 12 knots on average. Of course, with the passage of tropical storms and hurricanes, we can tend to have much higher wind, with maximum speeds of up to over 100 knots.
Have you noticed much of a change in the climate at all and the different challenges that come with it over the last, say 10 years or more?
We have seen more frequent droughts, I believe, just you see a ten-year cycle. Right now, we're into a drought that started a few years ago. We get little let off here and there, but generally it continues to be a long-term problem. In terms of our temperature, it has remained basically steady. We tend to see a slight increase in the night-time temperatures. Wind speeds and direction, they continue to be fairly normal. But that's it generally. The changes that we've seen, they're not great. Most of the changes that we've seen, of course have to do with the drought, the dry conditions, which as been lasting a longer than normal.
With the drought then, do you find that it is your responsibility to inform the agricultural sector? What is your involvement in trying to mitigate the problems that come with droughts?
We work along with other regional partners, particularly the Caribbean Institute of Meteorology and Hydrology (CIMH) in an effort to look at this drought problem and to produce drought information. They have a monthly bulletin and so we'll provide information and any input that we can actually provide to improve it.
What sort of forecasting equipment do you have at the moment? In terms of weather stations or I'm not sure if you have radar at the moment, but, what's your infrastructure like at the moment?
We do have radar, we use output from the Guadalupe Meteo-France Radar and they been quite generous in allowing the images. That is, we thank them a lot for that, which is a little bit of a problem, I mean we’re only 35 miles north of Guadalupe. So, we have pretty much covered in Antigua and Barbuda, was that coverage doesn't get to Anguilla.
There's a bit of a shadow with some of the other islands, like Saint Kitts. And so that presents a little bit of a challenge, but we’ve managed to get by. In terms of equipment, we recently have been able to increase our network of stations across the island. And we have intentions of extending to Barbuda as soon as we can.
You will recall that Barbuda suffered severe damage and what equipment we had there; they were destroyed like everything else. We plan to set up quite a number of stations across Barbuda as soon as we get to it, so between six and 10 stations.
In Antigua, we have a similar number set up already and we intend to improve on that. The network that we have now can give us fairly real-time information, which we intend to present to the people who can use it for research or any other type of activity that involves gathering information.good
When it comes to procuring equipment, do you come across any challenges for this? Do you find it easy to find the right equipment or do you find it a challenge to find something that fits the purpose for you?
As a small national meteorological service and one from, not a very rich country, we do suffer quite a bit because a lot of the equipment that we do have are donated. They're donating because this comes with such a high cost. We're not able to fund all of this. But then that also presents another challenge because even though the donors will give you this equipment, the cost of maintaining that equipment is also yours. You're back in a similar situation because once they go down and you can't maintain them then you basically don't have them. Those are some of the problems that we are actually faced with. And it is a serious problem because we do need to, once you start providing the information and to break that and having to restart over and over again, then you’re really moving one step forward and two steps back.
What would you say is the remedy for that? Is it more a case of taking some sort of ownership of the equipment and allocating or getting donor funds for maintenance for a certain amount of years?
Yes, that would be fine except that doesn't happen too often, where you're given the expectation and rightly so, that you're expected to have some skin in the game.
You're expected to be able to do something, so it will be a bit unreasonable to ask for everything. You should be able to do something for yourself. It would be good if you could sometimes so that you don't end up with various types and brands, that for instance, have no integration. It'd be nice if the donors understood these things but sometimes they won't and we must understand too as some come from Japan, some come from Europe, some come from everywhere and so that is still going to remain a problem.
You just have to find some way that if they cannot be integrated, how we can integrate these systems ourselves so that they are able to work. That may be one of the areas in which we have to concentrate a bit more. One of the problems, for instance, we're faced with as a small meteorological service and I would say more so across the Caribbean, is that telecommunication equipment is many times a problem. How to get your data stored, retrieve it, and sometimes to send it across to the telecommunications hub, GTH and so on or send it in a particular format that the WMO has mandated is very expensive.
One of the things we noticed across this area is that hardly anybody has the means to transmit in buffer. This is a big challenge, especially across the region at this point in time. To get that; and the big equipment that can give you the kind of quality data that you can actually work with; that comes with a cost and many times our National Met services are not able to meet that cost.
I just wanted to talk about the CIMH from the perspective of one of the member met services and what they do. In what way do you collaborate with CIMH and to what extent do you rely on them or trust them to assist you as a Met service?
As you know well, all of our training is done at CIMH. So, myself or my staff, have been trained over the years at CIMH. So they do provide training and we provide forecasting information. They act as a regional forecasting office and so we assist them with, for instance, on the job training like we're doing forecasting or observing in Leeward Islands because we provide the on the job training for them.
We also, as I mentioned earlier, collaborate very closely with them with the cost of projects. Additionally, they're now a regional climate centre so all the data that we collect is actually sent to CIMH.
We of course will collaborate with the CIMH in any other way that we can. As you know, because of how it's set up, the regional governments basically govern CIMH. We provide support, we provide financial support and so on to keep it going. They have our full support.
How about the WMO? As a small island nation, do you collaborate much with the WMO?
We collaborate with them and we actually have had full membership with WMO since 1988. Myself, I am the permanent representative for the island and so we work very closely with WMO at the highest level and of course we follow their directives and mandate.
Where do you see the future of meteorology in Antigua and Barbuda, of course in the next few years, in terms of your priorities?
Well, one of the problems that we do have and I believe a number of the other Met services across the region have, is that recruitment of young people into the field. We have not been very successful at doing that. And of course, that is necessary to ensure services continue.
It could be the salary. I have gone out and done presentations and recruitment drives. The young people will always ask how much do you make, as a way to try to determine whether or not they should make meteorology their career. So that is part of the problem. The other part is because of the kinds of qualifications that we do need. It's a science-based organisation and so there are certain subjects that you must have. We’re competing with other areas which seem more interesting for people who have the ability. And then for those, who are at a lower level, then you'll find it very difficult to hold on to.
We're talking about providing other services for other organisations, other stakeholders and so on. Meteorology is a big thing and we just need to find the right marketing strategy that can attract young ones into the field. Once we'll do that the future would be safe.
Do you take any staff from overseas or do you try and recruit internally first?
Well, we try locally first, that's something we do, as a matter of fact, we... Of course, if it comes down to a situation that we desperately need, but mostly likely in the Caribbean or those who are interested, but they're having the same problems, so that's a difficult one. Then we look beyond however we don't have a system at the moment in terms of looking beyond, but we can speed that. In the future, that's something that we will definitely have to look at. We may have to look at in terms of keeping the met service functioning at the level at which we'd want it.