Miffed at IMD, Kerala government eyes global agencies for better forecast

By Rajesh Abraham| Express News Service | Published: 06th September 2018 01:05 AM
File Photo of Kerala Floods. | Express Photo Services

KOCHI: Amid the blame game over the delay in the opening of dam shutters in the state in the aftermath of the floods, a new line of thought is emerging within the Secretariat’s corridors: To use weather prediction inputs provided by international biggies like the IBM Weather Company for a more precise location-based forecast.

“Allow these big reputed private companies to supply data to the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) and let them prescribe the standards,” said a senior bureaucrat. “If India can buy defence equipment from private players; if countries such as Japan and European countries can rely on the forecast by companies such as Mitsubishi, Earth Network, Samsung and IBM’s The Weather Company, what stops us from using such superior data?” wondered the officer.

When contacted, IMD director general K J Ramesh said it is providing 3 km x 3  km radius forecast, which gives predictions up to the taluk level. 

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IMD director general K J Ramesh said, “We’re providing this info on our website. If private players start giving info, then we can’t be held responsible if something goes wrong.” Bureaucrats said the state government’s key weather-related decisions including the opening of dam shutters, evacuation of people, etc are guided based on the forecast of IMD among other things.

Recently, IBM’s The Weather Company dashboard was installed at the CM’s office, which has been giving regular weather update feeds. “We observed the feeds from The Weather Company were even more precise,” said another officer.

Additional Chief Secretary P H Kurian said engaging private firms can bring a new perspective. He, however, refrained from commenting further. The government, right now, cannot act upon the information by private players as the IMD is the sole agency responsible for weather forecasting in India. It also provides meteorological observations and seismology.

Asked about the IMD’s claim of providing weather forecast up to 3 km x 3 km, the officer said its predictions were “erratic”  and “not reliable” when compared with the predicted rainfall and the realised rainfall. “When we analysed the IMD data on 9-sq km radius, we found there’s a big gap between the realised rainfall and predicted rainfall,” said the officer.

Further, as per the BIS standards, a state like Kerala should have 258 rain gauges, as compared to the existing 69 stations. “We prefer automated stations, which will give us concurrent data. Right now, only five stations give us that. There’s no point in getting the data the next day,” the officer said.

For planning of emergency evacuation, the government needs three months’ advance forecast on the rainfalls in the catchment areas. “Private players can bring such credible information,” said the officer.
In fact, a Parliamentary Standing Committee that looked into Cyclone Ockhi had also suggested the IMD should collaborate with international firms. In its report tabled on April 4, it said: “The IMD must learn from best practices being followed globally to improve prediction of such a phenomenon. If needed, research should be undertaken to predict cyclones in collaboration with global organisations.”

Tags : IMD Kerala floods IBM Weather Company

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