Millennium Post

Keeping meteorology exclusive

You have assumed the charge of India Meteorological Department (IMD), and we are set to have a more-than-normal monsoon. At the same, you also have to face the challenge of forecasting monsoons more accurately. What are your plans to make it 100 percent accurate?

The IMD always wants to forecast a good monsoon. But it depends on atmospheric conditions. It is also a fact that predictions made by our talented scientists have always proven right. But there is nothing like 100 percent accuracy in monsoon forecasting as it is a prediction. Predicting anything before its onset cannot be error-free.

Scientists at the IMD try to understand whatever is happening in the atmosphere by using mathematical calculations but that cannot be exact. It is also a fact that whatever is happening in the atmosphere is not being deciphered entirely. We just try to depict that by virtually creating that situation by mathematical calculations and try to generate a realistic condition for the future.
Since forecasting is a continuous process, its accuracy will increase after advanced knowledge put into practice.  

Earlier in 1950s, computers were smaller, so forecasting was done manually. Now there is a paradigm shift in weather forecasting as the development of meteorology is related to technological developments. Better computers have replaced the older ones. Finer resolution models came in operation as earlier 250 sized grid output was in use (1987), which has been come down to 22 km scale and we are getting output on a global model.

What are your plans to make more advancement in weather forecasting?
We are planning to bring down to 12 km grid scale as part of our development agenda. Once it becomes operational, we will be able to find exact values and predict more accurately on a region-specific basis. All research teams at National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (NCMRWF), IMD, and Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune are working in tandem. A working group has been created to develop that capability and to testing it in order to be put in operation. This will take at least two to three forecast seasons. The test trials are already on, but we don’t have computers to run the tests and for its operational purpose.

But we are confident that in the coming one or two years, we will be able to have that computing power. So, until then, the 12-km model will be operational in delayed mode, as per the plan in this monsoon season. The data of this year’s monsoon season will be compared with the latest 12-km model on delayed mode and we will keep experimenting it until there are satisfactory results and after getting computing powers we will make it operational.

What are the reasons for the delay in availability of computing power?
The only reason was a dearth of funds, but the government has taken care of it. We are hopeful that IMD would get some additional funds for the purpose and in anticipation of the fund allocations, we are planning to start tendering process for the procurement of required computing power.

When was the last supercomputer purchased?
There is nothing like last computer purchase as during the initial stage of IMD modernisation, computers were procured for four clusters -- supercomputing cluster in IMD, Indian National Cartographic Association (INCA), Hyderabad, IITM, and National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (NCMRWF), Noida. At that time, computing was processed at only 170 teraflops, which has been increased to 1024 teraflops. Instead of four-five high computing clusters, we are working on high-speed weather forecasting by collecting data from the centres of IITM and NCMRWF. The speed of IITM has been increased to 750 teraflops and NCMRWF by 274 teraflops.

In the recent past, some private weather forecasting agencies have also started their services. Do you think there will be any competition with them?
There is no competition with private players in weather forecasting. It is a known fact that everywhere in the world, there is a national weather service which is maintained and operated by the government. In some advanced countries like the USA, private players only take the output from the government websites and provide consultancy for different sectors such as agriculture, water resources, transport, to run a weather channel, etc. But, for all these services, the basic core content is provided by the national weather service.

Even if you say that private players can grow in future, that also is not possible as we have a huge knowledge base. At present, the workforce of IMD is about 6,000. Also, there is no match to the quality of scientists that we have. Are they our observational infrastructure services at 70 airports? How can they manage such as huge infrastructure?

Even if they want to compete theoretically, they need to have a matching infrastructure. Whatever the government has has been built over 140 years, it cannot be built overnight. They cannot develop experts either. So there is no competition with private players, but they can grow in areas like weather service. In that case as well, private players would have to take inputs from the IMD. They can just add some more information to it and customise the services in accordance with the need of their clients.

How do you see weather forecast being done by private players?
I will only say that they should not compete with government institutions. Whatever they want to do, they can do by adhering to norms of the government, but they should not try to create a competitive atmosphere. They are not going gain anything out of it. It will only damage the prospects of our farmers.

(Dhirendra Kumar is Special Correspondent with Millennium Post.)
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