Looks like rain again

Looks like rain again

The weatherman has always been the butt of jokes, accused of getting it wrong more often than right. But then forecasting weather cannot be an exact s

Looks like rain again

The weatherman has always been the butt of jokes, accused of getting it wrong more often than right. But then forecasting weather cannot be an exact science and at the Delhi-based Regional Meteorological Centre, experts try to get it right as far as possible

Predicting weather is an ‘unpredictable’ line of work. Weather science pundits say prediction, as the word itself suggests, cannot be accurate. But the meteorological department works round-the-clock, meeting the challenge as best as it can, providing forecasts and warnings.

Apart from the staple of maximum and minimum temperatures, humidity and rain, the Met department provides agriculture forecasts for farmers, special rain forecasts for fishing and shipping sectors, flood forecasts for national water commission, and wind forecasts for aviation services – both commercial and military. It also deals in seismology — scientific study of earthquake and as well as caters to VVIPs and other government officials.

At the Regional Meteorological Centre (RMC), Delhi a core staff of around 60 buries itself in the task of providing life-saving warnings as well as the more mundane weather predictions for Delhi-NCR and other states in northwest region – Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, and Rajasthan.

Dr O P Singh, Deputy director general at RMC, Delhi, says, “It is a scientific challenge to give accurate predictions. We model the atmosphere which is approximate. A model is a computer algorithm which predicts the weather – the  entire process is known as numerical weather prediction. So if the model is approximate, how can the predictions be accurate?”

The Met department uses the US Global Forecast System (GFS) which is a global numerical weather prediction system containing a global computer model.
There is another forecasting system, the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF).

It is used by 20-25 European nations. The ECMWF provides global weather forecasts for 15 days and seasonal forecasts of up to 12 months.

According to reports, amateur forecasters and professionals have been claiming for a long time that the US GFS model is more inaccurate than the ECWMF.

 It is the basis for the business model of the ECWMF’s institution, which sells its data at exorbitant prices whereas the GFS data is free. But be it GFS or ECWMF, accuracy remains elusive.

People matter

Forecasting is a highly specialised job. With the right inputs and technology, a good forecaster can do a better job, but a poor forecaster will not be able to do it well. It is the biggest limitation of the Met department to get specialised people.

“A strong team of dedicated forecasters, who are highly skilled, has been created here at RMC, New Delhi. We are going through a transition process. We are moving towards digitalisation, everything is getting automatic and electronic,” says Singh.
“The existing manpower has to be in tune with the new methodology. Sometimes there is resistance by the staff. We have to motivate them to get used to the new ways and techniques,” he adds.

Since the recruitment process did not take place in the last decade, and many people retired during this time, the staff strength in different sections of the Met department started declining. Now, the Met department has resumed the hiring process. In last four to five months, RMC, Delhi has recruited 69 scientific assistants who are BTech, Bachelor of Engineering and postgraduates – to be deployed at the Delhi regional  headquarter and stations across the states in northwest India.
“Of them, 20 are being given rigorous training,” says Singh. “Filling up of vacancies will be taken up on a regular basis.”

Sources say 104 posts were on offer at the department, but only 69 people turned up. The reasons for such a small number of people joining is not quite clear, they say. Altogether, there are 1,088 people on the rolls of RMC, Delhi.

Keeping in view the enormous task cut out for the department which offers its services to so many different sectors, it is important to fill the vacant posts. But there are other challenges as well.

Big plans

“We want to increase the time of forecast and issuing warning,” says Singh.
“The time needs to be extended to at least 10 days, which is a doable task with the availability of latest and good observational network, and refinement of weather predicting models. It will be helpful for farmers and they can use the warnings and take precautions,” he says.

“At present, we are only able to predict for five days in advance,” he adds.
This achievement too has come in the last two to three years. Earlier, the department could give out predictions only for two days. 

During the 2010 Commonwealth Games, automatic weather stations were started in Delhi-NCR, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Jammu and Kashmir. In the last two years, five Doppler Weather Radars were installed – two in Delhi, and one each in Lucknow, Jaipur and Patiala.
The department is also trying to widen the scope of the forecasting process, starting district level forecasts in 2008. Earlier, it carried out only state-level forecasting.
“Now that we have achieved forecasting for five days, weather forecast needs to be generated for block level, which is very much required for agriculture,” says Singh.
For this purpose, observations need to be increased and it will require tremendous computing power.

“If Numerical Weather Prediction model’s resolution increases, we will be able to give forecasts for smaller areas,” he says.

To bring new instruments and better model to augment the observational network seems like a huge task.

Indian Meteorological Department has two projects in pipeline – a Rs 900 crore plan for modernaisation for Delhi-NCR, and states of northwest, and a project for the Himalayan belt. “We are in the process to launch INSAT 3D in July-end. It is a geostationary satellite as advanced as Geostationary Satellite Server (GOES) of the US. It has all the latest sensors,” says Singh.

They have also recently started a ‘nowcast’ which provides weather updates every three hours.

But despite all this, experts remind that weather prediction is not an exact science. Forecasters do the best they can, the rest is up to Nature.

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