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Under the weather: why can't India get its monsoon forecast right

It would help if the Indian Meteorological Department didn't tailor its announcements to its political masters' need to deliver good news. The IMD has weather radars in just a few cities compared to the scores spread across America, writes Gautam Gode.

ht view Updated: Sep 17, 2014 16:41 IST

Many who travel to the developed world and watch local TV are struck by the quality of weather coverage there, and its contrast with the IMD's (Indian Meteorological Department's) anodyne long-term predictions and utterly broad-brush and opaque short term forecasts.

To be fair, any weather prediction beyond a couple of weeks is an inexact science, though it would help if the IMD didn't tailor its announcements to its political masters' need to deliver good news. As long as I can remember, they have predicted normal monsoons, and in poor years like the current one, they continue to be in denial till the very end.

But short-term weather forecasting? As a Delhiite, instead of just reading that there are chances of rain today, I would like to specifically hear and graphically see something like the following: "light showers will sweep Noida in the afternoon, and clear by evening when the thunderstorm moves to South Delhi. Gurgaon, Central and North Delhi will remain cloudy but dry"

Ditto if I were a farmer. I would like to know with certitude if it's going to rain on my patch rather than get information for the entire meteorological subdivision which is half of my state.

It turns out that you don't really need satellites to give this sort of rich data. The relevant technology in fact dates back to World War II. Just the good old radar modified with Doppler pulses. A weather radar shows the trajectory of rainbearing systems, and also the intensity which can be deduced from cloud reflectivity.

The IMD has weather radars in just about seven, eight cities. The corresponding figure for the National Weather Service in the US is at least 160. But more importantly, in America, weather radars are also owned (and their data shared) by TV stations, websites, universities, small airports and many others.

Why doesn't India have that spread? Lack of public investment is one reason. But another reason could be just that radar equipment is still perceived as military equipment and is hence on the restricted import list.

As if on cue, simultaneous to this piece getting published, the IMD has announced a Doppler radar in Uttarakhand. Very good, but how about doing this at all high-risk sites at one go and investing in a serious weather network that a country of India's size deserves?

(Gautam Gode is co-founder and MD of Samara Capital. The views expressed are personal.)

First Published: Jul 17, 2014 18:37 IST