Make India a ‘weather-ready’ nation

A proposal has been sent to the Union Ministry of Earth Sciences, detailing the areas of concern in India’s weather forecasting system and ways in which it can be improved

By Akshay Deoras
Published: Tuesday 25 November 2014

A proposal has been sent to the Union Ministry of Earth Sciences, detailing the areas of concern in India’s weather forecasting system and ways in which it can be improved

Checking the weather forecast before stepping out of the house might not be a habit right now in India, but one can prevent from getting trapped in a severe weather outbreak if one plans the day according to the weather, like in American and European nations. Not checking the weather forecast isn't the only reason why India topped the list of countries most affected by weather catastrophes(fatality-wise) in the year 2013 (according to the report of NatCatService/Munich Re).

So, was the toll high in India because people were caught unawares as they hadn’t checked the weather? Yes! Should we blame citizens for it? No! This is an ironical situation because there is no mobile version of the website of the India Meteorological Department (IMD) or that of the Regional Meteorological Centres (RMCs). There is also no sophisticated official weather app to alert the people.

One can’t deny the remarkable performance of the IMD in accurate forecasting of cyclones like Phailin (2013) and Hudhud (2014) and I appreciate their constant efforts at improvement. These two cases have shown how our “cyclone forecasting” has improved in recent years. But we also need to improve the forecasting of other weather events which are more frequent (like rains and heat waves).

During my internship at the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment in June 2014, I analysed India’s weather forecasting system by comparing it with that of other nations and found that India really needs to buck up in order to implement an efficient forecasting system. There is an urgent need to create weather-related awareness amongst people. This is possible only if we adopt modern ways as fast as possible to make India a “weather-ready” nation in the near future.

The report was drafted and sent in the form of a proposal to the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) on Friday, November 21, 2014. Titled “Re-engineering weather forecasting in India: an agenda for an increasingly climate insecure world”, the proposal was received by Secretary Shailesh Nayak and Advisor M Rajeevan of the MoES. It has been sent forward by the ministry to L S Rathore, director general of IMD, for consideration.

Given below are some highlights of this proposal. I would also ask readers to read the entire proposal here. You can also see a presentation on the proposal here.

Key concern areas which are affecting the performance of India’s weather forecasting system

  • There are fewer than required weather forecasting centres in the country. Large states like Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have only one forecasting centre each. Lack of adequate weather forecasting and monitoring offices makes it difficult to forecast weather accurately on real time or “nowcasting of weather”.
  • A few states and union territories like Haryana, Chandigarh, Delhi, Assam and Meghalaya have been merged to form meteorological subdivisions in the country. There is only one meteorological subdivision for hilly states like Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Arunachal Pradesh. This leads to ambiguous and generalised weather warnings for these hilly areas.
  • Of 14 Doppler Weather Radars (DWR) in the country, radars in seven cities (Chennai, Jaipur, Kolkata, Machilipatnam, Dibrugarh, Patna and Nagpur) were found to be non-functional in February 2014. For instance, DWR Nagpur remained non-functional from late-February to March 2014 when Vidarbha witnessed severe thunderstorms/hailstorms
  • Weather forecasts and warnings are not written in user-friendly language. Advisories such as “heavy to very heavy rainfall will occur at one or two places during the next 24 hours” are ambiguous and do not provide localised information. Common users are unable to interpret radar images. There is no mechanism which can alert people on a real-time basis using the DWRs.
  • The IMD website does not give a clear picture of ongoing weather events in India. Warnings are uploaded in the PDF file format. HTML documents are difficult to open. The website does not have a mobile version. The websites of IMD and its Regional Meteorological Centres are complicated and users find it difficult to access specific information. The existing mobile app of IMD crashes several times and has been in the first stage of development since January 2013.

Many people still don’t know what precautions to take when severe weather strikes India. People don’t evacuate (observed particularly during cyclones), citing absurd and non-scientific reasons. This is because of the lack of awareness of severe weather.

Akshay Deoras is an independent weather forecaster

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