Wednesday, October 16, 2013

India's Meteorological Department gets its act right as cyclone strikes the coast

Dinesh C. Sharma in India Today: The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD), often a butt of jokes and wisecracks as well as a whipping boy for other government agencies, has emerged as the unexpected hero in the Phailin cyclone disaster that hit the East coast this weekend.

The British era scientific agency which was in news for corruption and maladministration just a decade back has made a spectacular turnaround. In 2004, director general of the met office was sacked for alleged graft in awarding of contracts to firms he favoured and for owning assets disproportionate to his income. He was arrested and is facing prosecution. Internal government investigations had found that the agency had hired non-scientific staff - arts and commerce graduates - for handling scientific work relating to weather forecasting. The agency, then working under the Department of Science and Technology (DST), was a perfect picture of a white elephant though it had some excellent scientific workforce in centres such as the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune.

A modernisation plan was prepared and implemented after the agency was shifted in 2006 from DST to the newly created Ministry of Earth Sciences. Daily weather forecasting, monsoon prediction, cyclone early warning, weather services for farmers, fog prediction at airport runways - all services were revamped with induction of new supercomputing capacity, radars, satellite data flow and better coordination among various agencies involved in met operations. A tsunami warning system is also now in place. The National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting in Noida (NCMRWF) claims the capability to predict weekly weather forecast for any location in the world. Cyclone tracking and landfall forecasts have improved due to improvements in space, land and seabased data collection as well real time computation of this data. The way Indian scientists remained stuck to their prediction on Phailin shows their new found confidence. Though Met office modernization is a work in progress we can already see the results...

The track of Cyclone Phailin, created and updated by Keith Edkins, public domain

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