Under the weather, 24/7, 365 days

Dr K Sathi Devi writes: Recently, the monsoons have become very erratic, making the job of weather forecasting trickier. Even weather patterns have undergone big changes.

Written by Dr K Sathi Devi

I love the monsoons and have fond childhood memories of many rainy days from my growing up years in Kerala. Recently, however, the monsoons have become very erratic, making the job of weather forecasting trickier. Even weather patterns have undergone big changes. For example, one now sees intense rainfall occurring over a small geographical area during monsoons, and this new pattern is very difficult to predict.

I joined the India Meteorological Department in 1992, and in my nearly three decades of service I have seen IMD’s growing radar networks, Automatic Weather Stations, enhancement of weather models and satellite derived products, increase in the use of satellite and ocean data — all of which have helped refine the department’s forecasts. The IMD has also started making extensive use of a range of tools for forecast dissemination, including its own mobile applications like Mausam, Umang, Damini, Meghdoot. The department is now active on social media platforms such as Twitter, YouTube and Facebook as well.

An Indian forecaster’s calendar has four parts — March to May (heat waves and cyclones); June to September (rain and floods); October to December (cyclones and rain); and finally, January-February (cold waves). We are duty-bound 24/7, 365 days of the year.

The general public is now becoming more aware of the impact of weather and easy access to forecasts through phones has helped. The demand has prompted IMD to provide impact-based forecasts that inform people of a region how a weather event will affect them. There is also a growing demand for forecasts from specific sectors such as agriculture, disaster management, power, energy, and they all want fast, tailor-made forecasts now.

An accurate forecast is directly linked to knowledge of current atmospheric and oceanic conditions. At the National Weather Forecasting Centre, we constantly monitor the clouds, the atmosphere and the vast oceans to draw inferences from it. It’s a big, collaborative effort.

Everyday at 10.30 am, I attend a meeting of IMD scientists from across the country over a video-conference. The meeting lasts for about two hours and we discuss the previous day’s weather, study present-day conditions and surface data recordings. We then identify trends and finally issue forecasts for the following day.

In 2016, I was posted to New Delhi, and since then winter has become my favourite season. During the other months, the Capital has extreme weather conditions.

Having served for long in Mumbai, I have vivid memories of the July 2005 deluge. It was a horrible day. Even though I was attached with the marine forecast division and my office was at Colaba, where it had not rained much, Mumbai’s suburban areas were flooded. I remember looking at the radar images, where there were continuous indications of extremely heavy rainfall.

Such events have been increasing in recent years and it is very difficult to predict them. That is why we issue ‘Nowcast’ warnings for extreme weather conditions through SMS.

A forecaster’s job is a high-pressure one. On many occasions, we have to constantly keep an eye on the developing cyclones or track cloud movements well beyond office hours, late into the night. Cyclones are tough, and keep us on our toes. We have to always remain alert.

Studying weather models, interacting with colleagues across the country and drawing out forecasts keep me very busy throughout the day, and often I have very little time for myself. The pressure gets to me sometimes. But I meditate, listen to some music, read, recharge, and again report to work the next day.

The writer heads IMD’s National Weather Forecasting Centre (NWFC)

As told to Anjali Marar

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