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News > Science and Tech

Scientists Predict Weather In Guatemala For Volcano Cleanup

  • Eufemia Garcia, 48, who lost 50 members of her family during the eruption of the Fuego volcano watches as soldiers carry human remains found at her house in San Miguel Los Lotes in Escuintla, Guatemala, June 12, 2018.

    Eufemia Garcia, 48, who lost 50 members of her family during the eruption of the Fuego volcano watches as soldiers carry human remains found at her house in San Miguel Los Lotes in Escuintla, Guatemala, June 12, 2018. | Photo: Reuters

Published 27 June 2018

Scientists from Columbia University work with Guatemalan agencies to predict the mid-range weather forecast that can help with rebuilding after Volcan de Fuego eruption. 

Guatemala's Volcan de Fuego erupted in early June, killing at least 112 people. Approximately 200 people who were caught in its pyroclastic flow and mushroom clouds of ash remain missing.

Guatemala: After 11 Days, Woman Continues to Dig for Family Lost Under Volcanic Rubble

Weather in the coming weeks and months will play a major role to help or hinder the country’s recovery from Fuego’s massive explosions, and Angel Muñoz, a climate scientist at Columbia's International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI), is working with the Guatemalan government to help them plan a viable cleanup.

Working through the Columbia World Project (CWP) in Guatemala Muñoz is applying climate information and medium-term weather forecasts to help to guide Guatemala’s recovery efforts. Guatemala’s meteorological agency forecasts rainfall over the next three weeks, which could create mud and ash slides on the sides of the volatile volcano. Called ‘lahars’ these ash slides can eliminate communities in minutes.

"Lahars can be dozens of meters wide and can have tremendous power, destroying everything on their way down the slopes," Walter Baethgen, co-lead on the project tells Phys.org. "They can be very dangerous for communities and infrastructure placed on the slopes of the volcano," adds the scientist. That means homes, roads, and other critical structures can be wiped out without warning - and lives lost.

Being able to the predict mid-range weather conditions - from 14 to 90 days into the future - could help save lives and help the government plan to rebuild roads and other infrastructure.

Yet, for a long time the ability to predict mid-range or sub-seasonal, weather forecasting has previously proved elusive.

"There has been a predictability gap between weather and climate, and we honestly thought it was a timescale we couldn't say anything about," Muñoz explained. "Within the last 15 years, maybe a bit more, we've discovered that there is some predictability, there is a capacity to forecast at that particular timescale."

These types of medium-range forecasts are still experimental, however. "To the best of our knowledge, no one else in the entire world is using sub-seasonal forecasts to guide government action in the aftermath of a volcano eruption," said Muñoz.

Eddy Sanchez, director of Guatemala's meteorological and volcanology service (INSIVUMEH), was excited about the prospect of knowing the mid-range forecast around the volcano and invited Muñoz and his Columbia colleagues to run the analysis.

Using various layers of meteorological maps based on water and land temperatures and cloud cover over the past 17 years, among other variables, Muñoz, and his fellow scientists say they have determined what Guatemala’s weather will likely look like over the next three weeks - unseasonably dry.

If their predictions hold true, Guatemalan agencies will have a better chance at rebuilding roads and infrastructure in the areas most impacted by the eruption.

"That is basically a dream because we used to say you cannot have good forecasts weeks in advance," said Muñoz. "There is a lot of room for improvement, but they have potential."

Sanchez said that the forecasts were very useful because they identify changes that could occur in the short-term. "It makes us feel confident to have another forecasting tool," he said. "It's important for the government to have this kind of product to plan the construction of infrastructure and roads in the affected area by the Fuego Volcano."

Agro-meteorologist for INSIVUMEH, Rosario Gomez, said: "We are interested in starting the validation process, taking into account the daily rain data of the network of meteorological stations in the country.” She added, "The project can help our country to make better forecasts and be able to communicate them to decision makers," added Gomez.

Amidst a U.S. crackdown against Central American migrants, Guatemala's top decision-maker, President Jimmy Morales, is asking the U.S. government to grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to migrants from his country in the United States. "I have instructed the Minister of Foreign Affairs to immediately request Temporary Protected Status (TPS) from the U.S. government" for migrants from Guatemala, Morales tweeted on Monday.

As of this month, the U.S. administration under President Donald Trump had nearly wiped out TPS for its almost half a million beneficiaries, including Guatemala. 

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