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HindustanTimes Fri,01 Aug 2014

Weathering the storm at IGI airport

Manoj Sharma, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, September 15, 2013
First Published: 01:37 IST(15/9/2013) | Last Updated: 01:39 IST(15/9/2013)

When at home, Rajendra K Jenamani can be often found at his bedroom window, looking up at the sky. No he isn't a dreamer or an astrophysicist. He is the weatherman of the Delhi airport.

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Getting a forecast wrong is always on top of his mind. After all, a lot is at stake. As IGI airport's Met department director-in-charge, Jenamani knows that his one wrong forecast can cause all hell to break loose at the airport which handles nearly 800 flight movements every day.

Jenamani goes for an early morning walk during foggy weather to figure out the density of the 'silly weather', as he calls it due to its vagaries. His main job, however, is making localised weather forecasts - for runways separately, for the airport and the city.

More often than not, he is found peering into computers screens and pouring over weather charts, satellite images and maps along with his staff to gauge the speed of the wind and the visibility pattern at the airport's three runways. "At times, I feel like a radiologist, the only difference being that I read the X- rays of the sky," he says, explaining the satellite images.

Weather conditions between the runways can vary hugely, even between two points of the same runway. It is common for one runway to have zero visibility and for the other to have just about enough visibility for conduction of smooth business during foggy weather.

"The direction and speed of the wind and visibility at the runway matters most to a pilot. The Air Traffic Control (ATC) takes decisions to change runways, divert or cancel flights on the basis of our weather inputs. What airlines fear most are flight diversions, which does not only mean huge delays but also wasting aviation fuel worth lakhs of rupees thanks to the detour. What we do is current and high- impact weather reporting," says Jenamani, sitting in his second-floor office inside the ATC building at IGI airport amid the noise of aircraft taking off and landing.   

But, what Jenamani is actually proud of is the fact that under him, the accuracy of fog forecast for the airport has gone up from 60 to 95 per cent and from 75 to 97 per cent for intense rain in the past few years. Of course he is quick to add that there are days when the weather defies all forecasts. "It happened on June 6 this year when 22 flights had to be diverted because the thunderclouds caused high-speed multi-directional winds at the runway," he says. The months of December and January are tough ones for that is the season when his main task is to predict the timing of fog formation and reduction in visibility, which should not drop below 200m at the runway. Over the past years, the airport's Met department has been constantly upgrading its technology to improve the accuracy and duration of the forecast. It now has 13 RVR (runway visual range) equipment at the runways, the highest at any airport in the world. There is a weather analysis workstation bought from MeteoFrance. "Instead of 6-7 hours, we should be able to make 12 to 18 hours' forecast during fog," he says.

Jenamani, who hails from Sarangapur in Orissa, has been a Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) research fellow at IIT-Delhi. He did his PhD from Utkal University, Bhubaneswar and has been working at IGI's Met office since 2005. He won the Young Scientist Award in 2007.

"Presently all weather forecast is based on empirical data analysis. But I am trying to understand the phenomenon of thunderstorm formation, which is the most hazardous weather for aviation. I am also studying the effects of pollution on fog formation in Delhi. Fog is nothing but clouds on surface and it is more difficult to predict it in months such as February, March and November," says the man who is much sought after by flight managers of various airlines.

The pilots of politicians also keep calling during the elections when they fly out of Delhi to address rallies. "The pilots of business tycoons too remain in touch. Most businessmen land at night and in winters their pilots want to know whether a particular runway will be open. In fact, many of these pilots have become my friends," he says. During the rainy season, he says, many bigwigs call him to know if they can organise functions in the open in a particular part of Delhi.

The soft-spoken Jenamani can handle all this with aplomb, but what he finds most difficult to deal with is meeting his 14-year-old son's expectations. "These days he wants to know if he should take an umbrella to school or not. He gets pretty agitated if my prediction goes wrong," he laughs. What is also difficult for the airport's weatherman is leaving office on time - in winter, he works from 10 am to 11 pm and in summer from 10am to 9 pm. And despite a message pasted on his desk by his colleagues which says 'Always leave office on time', he inadvertently gets delayed.


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