Pilots, motorists asked to be wary of severe Harmattan

General News of Friday, 9 January 2015

Source: Graphic Online

Dry Weather

The foggy weather being experienced in the country has compelled the Ghana Meteorological Agency (GMET) to advise pilots and motorists to exercise extreme caution.

This is because the severe harmattan has made visibility very poor.

According to the Head of Research at the GMET, Mr Charles Kwaku Yorke, that was necessary because the poor visibility, if not properly dealt with, could result in accidents.

“Pilots have to be very careful. They’d have to take visibility values from GMET before taking off and landing because they need good visibility.

“This year’s harmattan is more intense than last year and has reduced visibility drastically, and it is also very dry,” he told the Daily Graphic in an interview.

Mr Yorke’s advice comes in the wake of the harmattan which has thrown a thick blanket of fog over the country since late last year, reducing visibility.

He urged the Motor Traffic and Transport Department (MTTD) of the Ghana Police Service to tow breakdown vehicles from the shoulders of the roads, since those vehicles could lead to accidents.

“If you have unserviceable vehicles on the major roads, there is the tendency that somebody may drive into them,” he said.

Harmattan is a dry and dusty wind that blows southwards from the Sahara Desert across the country from the end of December to February the following year.

“Drivers should reduce their speed and if possible use their fog light, especially in the early morning when visibility goes down so much,” he advised motorists.

When will it end?

He was, however, optimistic that the weather pattern would change next week for the better, saying, “We hope that its density will reduce and visibility improve by next week. It may not be gone totally, but visibility will improve by next week.”

Effects of harmattan

In some countries in West Africa, the heavy amount of dust in the air can severely limit visibility and block the sun for several days, comparable to a heavy fog.

The effect of the dust and sand stirred by these winds is known as the Harmattan haze and costs airlines millions of dollars in cancelled and diverted flights each year.

Mr Yorke said what was being experienced in southern Ghana was more severe than what was in the north, as the dust particles had been lifted to higher levels from the Sahara and were coming down over the south.

He said while this year’s harmattan might not be the worst in the last five years, it started at the right time, compared to previous years when it appeared in January or February.

Nigeria cancelling flights

Already, the weather is taking its toll on the aviation industry in Nigeria where domestic airlines in that country have, in the past few days, been cancelled. Flight operations are also being delayed due to bad weather conditions.

The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), on December 8, last year, issued a the weather alert to all pilots indicating hazards associated with harmattan dust haze in flight operations.

Ghana’s aviation industry and harmattan

Ghana’s aviation industry has also suffered similar fates in the past when airlines — both domestic and international — incurred losses because of flight cancelations.

On January 9, 2005, some major international airlines operating at the Kotoka International Airport (KIA) cancelled their flights for Saturday, while others delayed flights to Accra due to poor visibility over the Accra Flight Information Region.

Advice to the public

The harmattan season also tends to increase bush fires across the country, but the menace, Mr Yorke said, could be reduced if farmers and hunters were careful about setting fire in the bush because the fire could easily sweep off large areas.

“We should all be careful about throwing lighted cigarettes into the bush because at this time we have dry leaves and this can easily cause bush fires,” he said.

On health, he said foodstuffs should be covered because of the dust, while those who have chest problems, including bronchitis and other respiratory problems, should be cautious about the weather.

“Children should be clothed well in the morning, since it is very cold,” he said.