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Early Storm Warning

Port, aviation and emergency management operations in Central America and southern Mexico, a region frequently hit by serious storms, will be safer this summer thanks to a new short-notice prediction tool for thunderstorms, lightning and heavy rain. NextStorm is a project led by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. It is also a shared effort of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the University of Alabama-Huntsville and the Water Center for the Humid Tropics of Latin America and the Caribbean, known as CATHALAC, in Panama City, Panama.

NextStorm will become part of a satellite-based project called SERVIR – the Spanish acronym for Regional Visualization and Monitoring System – a high-tech satellite system that has been monitoring the environment of Central American Nations and parts of Mexico since 2005. The SERVIR system at CATHALAC integrates data from multiple sources such as U.S. and other satellites, ground-based maps, and earth observations. It then makes this data available to the public, along with decision-support tools to interpret the data. Accessible via the internet at, information from the SERVIR system allows decision makers to see potential crisis areas, such as where heavy rains are likely to fall, where flooding may occur, and where forest fires are burning, where algal blooms are forming red tides, and the damage that tropical storms or hurricanes have caused.

Over the next two months, NextStorm will be added to SERVIR’s set of tools. NextStorm can identify clouds that are likely to evolve into thunderstorms within an hour so warnings can be issued. “In regions without access to Doppler weather radar,” said USAID assistant administrator Jacqueline Schafer, “such forecasting will be extremely useful for the aviation industry, for port operations, for the ecotourism industry, for emergency management agencies and for those who work outdoors in farming, construction, and fisheries.”

USAID and NASA partners are also working in Nairobi, Kenya, with the Regional Center for Mapping of Resources for Development to establish a SERVIR system for East African countries. SERVIR Africa will include NextStorm and newer tools that are in development for early warning of flooding and climate-related diseases like Rift Valley fever. Countries with a membership to the regional mapping center in Nairobi will be targeted first for access to NextStorm and SERVIR. These include Botswana, Comoros, Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Namibia, Somalia, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher said, “ It’s basically science without borders.” Our understanding of the planet, he said, “requires an integrated understanding of how these links work together.”