An eye on the sky
OVER AND OUT From farmers needing information on rain to airline pilots charting out flight routes - met offices have to keep people informed about weather conditions
As a child, Laxman Singh Rathore loved the monsoon. Being farmers from Jodhpur, his family’s dependence on rain was obvious. Right from childhood, he wished he knew how to read the weather patterns, find what the weather would be like for the week, and forecast rain. “There was no school in my village. I used to walk to school six kilometers away. Jodhpur is largely a desert town and receives very little rain. Rain brought us cheer and happiness. That’s how I wanted to find out more about the weather,” says Rathore, director general of meteorology, India Meteorological Department.
Forecasting is all about predicting weather patterns during the day and through the week. A forecaster’s work involves designing new observational techniques for accurate and efficient measurement of atmospheric variables. Accurate weather forecasts can help farmers decide when the time is right to sow seeds. Timely weather updates to aircraft during landing and take off are also provided by the forecasters. Most importantly, bad weather warning in coastal areas can save many lives and enable city authorities to evacuate people to safety.
Rathore’s interest in weather forecasting prompted him to take up an MSc in soil sciences and agriculture chemistry from the University of Udaipur. He followed this up with a PhD in the same subject from the same institute. Later, he cleared the Union Public Service (UPSC) exam and was inducted into the Indian Meteorological Service in 1979.
He joined the Indian Meteorological Department as a trainee meteorologist in 1980 and since then there has been no looking back.
“Weather influences every activity and aspect of life. So, any information about the weather is critical. It also leads to national savings and economic development,” says Rathore.
Weather forecasting involves observing, forecasting and communicating. All these have their challenges in terms of their accuracy, timeliness and consistency. Work is complex, often involving the observation and processing of a large amount of data. Storm watching is an interesting part of the job – it could require analysis of a short-lived thunderstorms a few kilometres in diameter that last for an hour or so or snowstorms stretching up to a thousand miles and lasting for days.
The technical process of weather forecasting involves understanding current weather conditions, extrapolating the ‘state of the atmosphere’ using laws of physics. The next step involves processing data by deploying different techniques of data assimilation. The final stage involves modelling, post processing, and disseminating of information.
Tools of the trade include a rain gauge, to measure the amount of rain that has fallen over a period of time. A wind sock is a conical textile tube, designed to indicate wind direction and relative wind speed. A sling psychrometer measures relative humidity, using the cooling effect of evaporation. The anemometer measures wind speed and direction. Weather satellites are used to photograph and track large-scale air movements. Then meteorologists compile and analyse the data with the help of computers.
“Our climatologists transform raw meteorological data into useful information that helps the government, industries and operators of various services make fundamental decisions. Research is the backbone for any weather forecaster to deliver effective results,” says Rathore.
There is tremendous scope for weather forecasters in the field of education, research and operational fields related to atmospheric observation systems, data computation and processing and forecast generation.
Demand exists in all sectors, ie, government, academics/ research and the private sector.