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Sunday, October 13, 2013

Three cheers to our weather bureau

A proud moment for our weather scientists and India Meteorological Department who accurately forecast every detail of cyclone Phailin and saved hundreds of thousands of lives in Orissa. One may say that's their job, but given the poor reputation they have, they deserve a round of applause.

Meteorologists have always been the butt of jokes in our country. It's a pastime to look at the weather column and trash the forecast. Such is the disdain that if someone is planning a picnic, they check if there is a prediction of thundershowers!

The poor quality of prediction was never because of the lack of well-qualified meteorologists. India has some of the best scientists in the world. But they lacked state-of-the art technology to collect and analyse data. Thankfully, there's been change. Weather men say they now have good computer-backed systems for data analysis and forecast. And, we have seen the result.

In the runup to Phailin, our weather scientists were criticised by their counterparts abroad for underestimating the magnitude of Phailin. While IMD forecast a maximum wind speed of 220 kmph, western weather centres put the figure at 315 kmph. A noted meteorologist, Eric Holthaus, was quoted as saying, "Phailin is already worse than what the IMD is forecasting. A recent satellite estimate put Phailin's current intensity on par with 2005's Hurricane Katrina... I feel that IMD's underestimate of the strength and impact of this storm is potentially tragic and could catch many millions of people off guard." Katrina hit the US coast in 2005 killing over 1,800 people.

The western commentators seemed to have been bound by their stereotypical perception of India. Our meteorologists stuck to their assessment. Following up on their forecast, our National Disaster Management Authority in association with state and central governments did a commendable job of moving close to 9 lakh people to safety and reducing significantly the loss of human lives. Finally, our forecast turned out to be spot on.

It was good to see our weather scientists and disaster management officials getting their well-deserved prime-time coverage on all national news channels last night.

Incidentally, the India Meteorolgical Department has a very good website. It has a Facebook page too, and it has close to 7,000 Likes.

Time to take our weathermen seriously. No jokes, please.

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