Monday, February 28, 2011

February 28th

Fresh Air Matters... with Capt. Yaw
Weather… good or bad weather… or at least weather that is or is not good for Visual Flight Rules flying at low level, is always of interest to me and the crew at Kpong Airfield.  Aviation is a weather dependent activity – akin to farming and golf!

So, when I saw weather systems running from Port Harcourt, Nigeria to Lome, Togo, building and heading as if to clip the southern part of our country with intense winds and potentially a lot of rain, I decided to make an alert call. 

Earlier last week I had the pleasure of finally meeting with our friends from NADMO, and as part of that get together, I was pleased to be able to collect a phone number of a contact person.  Ghana has not really made use of its light aviation collateral in times of need, and it is important to understand the uses and limitations of all resources – so the meeting was a pleasant and positive exchange.  Little did I realise that I would be calling our new contact person 24 hours later regarding a weather warning!

Almost every day we monitor satellite images for West Africa on-line, using our Cliq.  Since morning, a storm had been brewing in what we call ‘Cameroon Bay’ – that being the area of sea between Port Harcourt and Douala.  Many storms brew in that ‘tea-pot’, mostly they pass without touching us in Ghana – either dissipating their energies on the way to Benin, or passing along the coast, south of Ghana. 

At the end of the Harmattan and the beginning of the ‘rains’ one or more of these storms will grow, pass inland and give the Harmattan a big ‘shove’ northwards.  This is characteristically accompanied by strong winds, low cloud base and a lot of rain.  Such storms are normal, generally occurring in March and April.  In the past few weeks several big storms or groups of storms have formed and missed Ghana as the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ)  holds the weather towards the equator.  However, on Tuesday, the twenty second of February 2011, the storm systems formed a chain – a big chain.  Anticipation of heavy rains was to be expected, as far as we could see. 

At nine in the morning I spoke to our building crew and suggested that they made sure not to start any work that may be affected by heavy rains, since we would probably experience them by night fall.  They all looked at the sky, looked at me and smiled one of those ‘eh, chale, what does he mean – ‘rain’ - huh, da sky is beautiful’ looks. They did, however, take it into account and made sure that they laid no concrete.  We cancelled all of our mission flights for the day, for they needed a window of about seven hours for operations and the risk of rain in later afternoon was already ‘high’ by nine in the morning.

Early afternoon we were working in the workshops on our prototype wind turbine for rural communities; as part of the demonstration of wind power, we took a standing fan and placed it in the breeze outside a hangar.  The winds were getting stronger and we watched the standing fan free spinning in the wind.  The sky was getting more overcast the temperatures rising, atmospheric pressure was dropping.

Accessing the internet page for satellite images, our AvTech Academy girls, aged fifteen to twenty-one, all looked at the growing mass of clouds and the path of intent that the storm, now growing into a number of ‘waves’ of attack was probably going to take.  They could read the signs and made a weather forecast of ‘heavy rain’. Staff were ready to close early because we knew that we were in for a ‘biggie’ of a rain storm.

By sixteen hundred hours we could feel the pressure drop, the sky giving visual evidence, making the satellite images no longer a necessary reference point.  We hurriedly cleared the turbine to the stores and arranged transport solutions for the staff.  Building activity was halted and all tools put away.  By sixteen thirty all were packed and ready for the nascent weather as the first big blobs of water hit the apron. 

I called pilot friends with businesses that may be affected by a storm, especially in parts of Accra affected by the on-going drainage works.  Then, as the first wave of stronger winds pelted rain at us like small bullets trying to make a short-cut through our bodies, I called my contact at NADMO.  I asked if they were ready for the effects of this storm.  As a result of the conversation they apparently called the Met-office. 

I am not aware of a storm warning going out, but I am aware of a lot of damage from the storm on Tuesday night.  I hope that some warnings were made by the authorities, since this last storm is, in my opinion based on current trends and observations as a person who relies on the weather for survival, the first of a number of ‘out of the norm’ storms that will cut across the nations of West Africa in the coming weeks, months and possibly year or two.  There are a number of reasons, some of them scientific, others ‘observational’ and anecdotal.  In our line of work, getting it wrong can cost us or one of colleagues their lives.  Getting it wrong can also wreck an airframe. Those who visit the airfield will be aware of the battle cry ‘TIE DOWN’  which indicates to all and sundry that an impending storm front is coming and all aircraft are to be secured IMMEDIATELY. 

As a result of my ‘weather alert’ last Tuesday I was asked by friends ‘why didn’t you contact the FM stations?’, to which I answered ‘I do not want to be accused of causing fear and panic; alerts are the responsibilities of the relevant institutions, it is for them to issue the warnings – not me.’  I thought that would be enough, but no.  I have been pestered to the point where I have to come up with a solution.  The solution is a simple one – I will tweet the weather at Kpong Airfield – and our forecasts!  For those who do not follow Twitter accounts, that will mean nothing, for those who do, please explain to those who don’t!

Captain Yaw ‘Tweets’ regularly about flights, engineering, cars, generators, visits to the various communities and events that take place around the Kpong Airfield, and will now Tweet the weather too.  All of the weather Tweets will contain ‘#KpongWX’ they will represent the predicted weather for Kpong Airfield, without prejudice or liability, for they are Captain Yaw’s personal, airfield, amateur forecast for those who are interested.  I will also Tweet, when possible, actual weather, as we perceive it, for those interested – especially our student pilots and pilots who call for weather before setting out!

You can follow our amateur weather predictions at CaptainYaw (one word) on Twitter – you may find other bits of information come along to make you smile as well, and it may help you to plan – but it carries no guarantees!

Capt. Yaw is Chief Flying Instructor and Chief Engineer at WAASPS, and lead Pilot with Medicine on the Move, Humanitarian Aviation Logistics ( e-mail

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