imd's failure to predict rains could be a blessing for it

Published: Wednesday 15 September 2004

though the India Meteorological Department (imd) could not predict the erratic mid-course behaviour of the southwest monsoon this year, it might actually benefit from this failure! The imd's inability to foresee a shortfall of rains in July, the month of sowing of kharif crops, has prompted Union minister of state for science and technology, Kapil Sibal, to seek more funds to improve monsoon forecasting. Against the 98 per cent rainfall predicted by the imd in July 2004, India as a whole received only 81 per cent rains of the long period average.

The minister has sought a "one-time" investment of Rs 500 crore -- about 2.5 times the annual budget of imd -- for procuring better equipment, which are particularly useful for short-term forecasting. Most tools currently used by the department are conventional and obsolete. These manually operated systems leave enough room for data discrepancy. The data inconsistency is so high that many nations refuse to use it for climate studies. Most countries have particularly blacklisted Indian upper air temperature data, according to Jagdish Shukla of the Centre for Oceans, Land and Atmosphere (cola), based in Maryland, usa.

imd sources also point at an acute lack of adequate machinery. Though a country the size of India requires at least 1,850 weather observatories, it has only 182. Even the World Meteorological Organisation insists on one weather-monitoring observatory for every 25-30 square kilometres.

The funds, if sanctioned by the Planning Commission, will also be used to set up about 5,000 satellite-based automatic rain gauges, 50 upper air observatories, 50 wind profilers (equipment that records and analyses wind patterns), 35 storm detection radars and 20 cyclone detection radars. India has no automatic rain gauge or wind profiler and its storm and cyclone detection radars are obsolete.

Scientists are also not sure that modernising weather systems would solve the problem. Collection of more accurate data would indeed lead to better understanding of the country's climate and its improved modelling. But experience elsewhere has shown this alone cannot lead to more reliable forecasts. What is required is unravelling of factors that influence the monsoon and using that knowledge for developing better forecasting models, they point out. Another serious problem with the department is its manpower shortage. Besides, the efficiency of its workforce is also questionable. But despite these problems, the imd is not keen on working closely with the scientific community, they allege.

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