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

Hindustan Times (Delhi) - HT Education - - Front Page - Raghav Malhotra

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.

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