Fore­cast­ing fail­ure

Met depart­ment has not learnt lessons from the Ut­tarak­hand tragedy. It re­mains ill-equipped


Ia year since T IS NEARLY Ut­tarak­hand wit­nessed one of the worst nat­u­ral calami­ties in In­dian his­tory due to sud­den cloud­bursts and flash floods. On June 17, the state re­ceived 340 mm rain­fall, an as­tound­ing 375 per cent above the daily nor­mal rain dur­ing mon­soons. Res­i­dents and tourists in Badri­nath got no time to move to safe ar­eas, which re­sulted in loss of thou­sands of lives and property. The state govern­ment was charged with be­ing too slow in res­cu­ing and re­lo­cat­ing people. When chief min­is­ter Vi­jay Bahuguna re­signed own­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for the ad­min­is­tra­tive fail­ure, he also ac­cused the In­dia Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal Depart­ment (imd) of fail­ing to warn the state govern­ment of the im­pend­ing dan­ger.

Mon­soon is just a few weeks away, but imd has done pre­cious lit­tle to im­prove its out­dated weather fore­cast­ing sys­tem.

Af­ter fac­ing wide­spread crit­i­cism, the depart­ment promised to aug­ment its fore­cast­ing mech­a­nism and in­stall bet­ter equip­ment to bring ac­cu­racy in weather pre­dic­tions. It seems the prom­ises were made only to as­suage people’s anger.

imd took months to an­nounce its ame­lio­ra­tive steps. The depart­ment or­gan­ised a meet­ing in early May where state chief sec­re­tary Sub­hash Ku­mar an­nounced that imd would in­stall three dop­pler radars, 75 rain gauge me­ters, five mi­cro rain radars, four com­pact radars, 75 weather sta­tions, be­sides in­tro­duc­ing a he­li­copter sup­port weather sys­tem. Dop­pler radar is the key fore­cast­ing tool that uses dop­pler ef­fect to mea­sure the ve­loc­ity of ob­jects lo­cated at a dis­tance. Rain gauge mea­sures pre­cip­i­ta­tion while mi­cro rain radar d is used to re­trieve quan­ti­ta­tive rain rates and drop size dis­tri­bu­tions. Com­pact radar tracks far­away people and ve­hi­cles.

Within a few days the Cen­tre sanc­tioned 116 crore for the project. It also

` asked the depart­ment to iden­tify land for the pur­pose. imd had been com­plain­ing that the state govern­ment starts dilly-dal­ly­ing when­ever it asks for land to set up weather sta­tions.

The project would take three to four years to com­plete. Given the tremen­dous loss Ut­tarak­hand suf­fered and the prom­ises the state govern­ment had made, more ac­tion on pri­or­ity ba­sis was ex­pected from imd.

At present, the state does not even have its own radar. It re­quests for data from Delhi and Patiala, says an imd of­fi­cial re­quest­ing anonymity. “Plan­ning for aug­men­ta­tion of the weather pre­dic­tion sys­tem has been go­ing on for the last 10 years,” the of­fi­cial says.

Last Septem­ber, imd sci­en­tist B P Ya­dav said in a depart­ment meet­ing that it had al­ready com­mis­sioned nine dop­pler weather radars in the Hi­malayan re­gion, in­clud­ing Ut­tarak­hand, Hi­machal Pradesh, and Jammu & Kash­mir. He also an­nounced com­mis­sion­ing of 18 mi­cro rain radars, 10

Weather fore­cast­ing in hilly ar­eas is chal­leng­ing be­cause of the com­plex ter­rain. It re­quires spe­cial radars

light­ning de­tec­tion sys­tems and 12 com­pact se­vere weather de­tec­tion radar sys­tems. But on ground noth­ing has changed, the of­fi­cial says.

L S Rathore, imd man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, says the project to aug­ment the depart­ment’s weather fore­cast­ing was con­ceived re­cently and will take time to com­plete. “It is a long process which in­volves pol­icy de­ci­sions, ten­der­ing, pro­cure­ment and in­stal­la­tion,” he says. “Its com­ple­tion may take a few years.”

Weather fore­cast­ing in the Hi­malayan re­gion is a chal­leng­ing task be­cause of its com­plex ter­rain, says Anand Sharma, sci­en­tist at imd Dehradun. “Fore­cast­ing is com­pletely dif­fer­ent in the hills. One radar can­not cover long dis­tances,” ex­plains G P Sharma, head of Skymet, a pri­vate fore­cast­ing agency. Hilly ar­eas re­quire spe­cial radars called X-band radar. Ac­cord­ing to him, hilly states like Ut­tarak­hand need at least 14 such radars. S-band radars, which are used in the planes, can cover long dis­tances but can­not catch minute de­tails.

Across the coun­try, there are quite a few imd radars which do not func­tion, says the depart­ment of­fi­cial. The radar at Di­bru­garh has been out of or­der for the past six months, while the Nag­pur radar has not been func­tion­ing since April 30. The sit­u­a­tion is sim­i­lar in Bhopal and Jaipur.

Cli­mate in the Hi­malayan re­gion is show­ing signs of change. Af­ter last year’s de­struc­tion, people are wor­ried what the com­ing mon­soon holds for them. What they need is a sound weather pre­dic­tion mech­a­nism backed by ad­min­is­tra­tive sup­port, which they are un­likely to get this sea­son.

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