Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The 10 day forecast for weather: Advice for Travelers

Hmmm. Same, same but different...

My next trip to Africa is in ten days. Being a typical American somewhat obsessed with checking the weather, I am gathering information on the 10 or 14 day weather outlook for Dakar, Senegal. Eleven years ago when I was first preparing to live there, I was amazed by the 14 day weather forecast online… sunny, no chance of rain, high around 89 degrees, everyday. Well, somedays the high varied by one degree, but that's about it.

It seemed like every day would be exactly the same. And more or less, it was. At least for a month or two. We wondered if someone online was making up the weather, whether anyone was actually making a real forecast. Of course, I know we often ask ourselves the same question when the meteorologists on TV seem to get the weather wrong half the time in the United States as well!

Since then, the Internet has grown, technology has improved, and a typical long term weather forecast is more reliable. Or is it? I checked out my three favorite sites for weather forecasts, and here is what I found.

The bbc world weather provided me with a good 5-day forecast after I finally spelled "Dakar" right in the search. You can also choose to get info on the "yearly average conditions" for many cities (Dakar is in there). If you're looking for 30 day weather forecast, this yearly average feature is probably your best bet. Maybe it's just for bragging rights, or "complaining rights," but I like preparing myself for how bad the humidity tends to be in a given month. Thus, I am dreading the "high" humidity rating for Dakar in October but there's nothing you can really do to prepare. Just make sure you pack some antiperspirant, and maybe some facial wipes (or those baby diaper wipes) to clean up the sweat.

Another feature I like on the BBC is the "Country Guide" feature. When I'm headed to a new country, I like to have an idea of the weather there in general. They also include some pretty pictures and an image of the country's flag, which can help in my Facebook geography competition. (My obsession with that will have to be another post someday.)

Last month when I was headed to Parakou, Benin, my stand-by weather site, The Weather Channel, didn't have anything for me. BBC did have a five day forecast. And even better was www.wundergound.com (Weather Underground) which gave me a five-day as well as a long range weather forecast. Parakou is a good seven-hour drive from the largest city of Benin, so I was pretty impressed to get this info from two sites.

I still remember the feeling of stepping off the plane in Dakar in October 1997 for the first time. Even around 9:30 pm in the dark, it felt oppressively hot, like someone was blowing a hairdryer in my face in a steamy bathroom. If I don't melt away in Senegal this year, I'll return to some brisk November temperatures and hopefully there will still be some fall colors to enjoy. Oh and by the way, here are the highlights for the forecasts for Dakar, Senegal on October 23, 2008 which vary a bit, just as one would expect!

Partly Cloudy, High 85F, Low 78F, 10% chance of precip - Weather Channel

Almanac for Dakar, Average high 85F, Average Low 70F - Weather Underground

Average Conditions for Dakar, Average high 32C (90F), Average Low 24C (75F)- BBC

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