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IMD to `change face of weather forecasting'

Vinson Kurian

Thiruvananthapuram , April 19

THE drought year 2002 that failed the meteorologist's predictions by a huge margin with devastating implications for the country's economy is triggering a churn in the weather forecasting system.

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) has teamed up with sister organisations and academic institutions to launch a massive exercise aimed at "changing the face of forecasting" and fine-tuning its prediction skills in order to serve the best interests of the agricultural sector and the economy at large.

Severe weather events, heavy rain, tropical cyclones and vagaries of monsoon affect societies significantly the world over. Amongst all the monsoons of the world, the Indian monsoon has the largest spatial extent and it affects not only its economy but also those of adjoining countries. It is known to have significant linkage with the global weather and unanticipated changes in the sea state. Thus, prediction of the various facets of monsoon and the associated rains is a challenging task and of considerable interest for the scientists.

Speaking to Business Line here on condition of anonymity, a top academician involved in the exercise of redefining weather predictions said the changes would come into effect in "an year's" time. India's weather predictions would then match, if not entirely outclass, those of the most advanced countries. The efforts are aimed at being able to forecast weather down to specific regions and locales with huge stakes in the farm sector. An official announcement on the exercise, already set into motion, is due shortly.

According to the academician, the first few results of the new exercise can be seen in this year's long range forecast itself. Especially, in the decision to divide the erstwhile homogenous meteorological region of the Peninsula into two (North and South) and envisaging separate forecasts for each at the time of announcing the monsoon onset next month. This has been partly prompted by the fact that the southern part of the country received very little rains during the last two monsoons (2002, and in 2003, too, when the rest of the country enjoyed a normal monsoon). The same has been the case more or less with the met divisions of south interior Karnataka and north interior Karnataka.

A number of organisations, including the National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting, are involved in the exercise of honing overall prediction skills.

Samples of data will now be collected from a much largely dispersed geographical area. "Episodes of heavy precipitation over localised areas associated with, for instance, cyclones are of concern to all. These disasters cannot be prevented but a skilful forewarning could substantially reduce the loss of lives and impact on the economy. An effective forewarning could be achieved by improved forecasts through numerical modelling," the academician said.

"For instance, even in Kerala, the performance of monsoon has widely varied from being the muted in the south while being true to form in the north, and vice versa. Severe damages have been reported in the bargain, apart from reduced inflows to hydro-electric projects which are crucial to maintaining power supplies in the State. If this is the situation obtaining in a small State such as Kerala, one can very well imagine the fluctuations in much larger geographical regions and meteorological divisions outside of it."

This is the second year in which the IMD is coming out with its long-range monsoon forecast by mid-April.

The revised forecast schedule is said to be more useful as it provides sufficient lead time for the farming community to take informed sowing decisions.

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