Eyes on the skies: Meet the amateur weathermen who help you plan your day
When Navdeep Dahiya was six, his family moved from Rohtak in Haryana to Korba in Chhattisgarh. “Rohtak is very cold in the winters,” says Dahiya, now 20. “It’s not so cold in Korba. But the monsoons were aggressive, the thunderstorms intense.”
Dahiya became “obsessed” with understanding why this happens. A trip to the India Meteorological Department (IMD) headquarters in Delhi when he was 14 boosted his interest in weather models.
For the past four years, he’s been making his own forecasts, down to village level, across nine territories (Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan, Jammu & Kashmir, Ladakh). He posts in Hindi and English on the Facebook page Live Weather of India, which has over 31,000 followers, and on his website, www.northindiaweather.in.
Across the country, as India’s met departments continue to focus on the big-picture forecasts, social media has allowed dependable amateurs to reach and help the average Joes just trying to go about their day.
These amateurs with accurate readings include Mumbai’s @IndiaWeatherMan, who has over 58,000 followers on Twitter and posts crucial rain and flooding updates in the monsoon; @ChennaiRains (115,000 followers); Tamil Nadu Weatherman (@praddy06; 360,000 followers); Weather of Kolkata (21,000 followers on Facebook); and websites such as vagaries.in, which covers extreme weather events across the country.
The men behind these handles all have day jobs, but set aside hours every week, in which they analyse readings, check on equipment, and use internet tools and open-source satellite feeds to make educated guesses about how hot it will be next week, how much rain commuters can expect tomorrow, whether a dust or hail storm will hit their suburb.
The margin for error in longer-term predictions is very high, they say. Which is why most weather bloggers prefer to stick to present and very-near-future updates, also known as nowcasting.
How do they do it? Amateur weathermen scan weather models put out by Indian and foreign agencies, wind charts and precipitation charts, the IMD’s radar and satellite readings as well as readings from its surface and pilot balloon observatories. To this the hobby weathermen add readings from their own rooftop observatories, and from their own hyperlocal charts where they’ve recorded daily readings over years.
Dahiya, for instance, uses a digital thermometer, rain gauge and automatic air quality index sensor fixed to his terrace in Rohtak. “We received some donations from followers last year, to update some of the equipment,” he says.
Some of the men behind Bengaluru Weather (@BngWeather, with nearly 15,000 followers on Twitter) have sensors on their terraces. K Srikanth of @ChennaiRains wakes up at 4.30 am every day and spends about two hours scanning weather models. “It takes long hours of observation and practice,” says Srikanth, 46, a food retail entrepreneur.
Intuition plays a big role, they say. But intuition comes with time and effort. Srikanth has been studying the weather of Tamil Nadu for over 20 years and, since 2018, has also been maintaining an open source tabulation of rainfall data recorded by amateur weather bloggers in different parts of the city.
“With time, I have evolved my understanding of weather patterns,” he says. “It’s a bit of chaos theory. A slight change in certain conditions today could lead to lead to a different manifestation in a week or ten days. I have come to trust my understanding of this.”
The climate crisis is making the weather harder to predict. “The south-west monsoon in the northern part of India has been declining,” Dahiya says. “It’s getting more and more unpredictable.” Annual dust storms have begun to leave more devastation in their wake.
While Dahiya has help from friends who are also weather enthusiasts, @BngWeather is handled by small group of weather enthusiasts , including Umamaheshwaran who is the main weather forecaster; Sabarinath Subramanian who shares essential research papers that help in forecasting; Kalaiyarasan Nagarajan who regularly checks for model outputs and has the helpful habit of verifying all data with nearby stations; Joseph Xavier, who takes care of climatology updates (hottest recorded temperature, wettest season, etc); and Aditya Shankar, who primarily monitors the weather in Hosur, near Benagluru. Further, Praveen Chandrasekaran, Siddharth Hegde and Rahul Bedi monitor wind, humidity, precipitation and temperature with their own automated weather stations.
“Since we are not on the coast or the Ghats, we don’t to see extreme weather in Bengaluru,” says Xavier, 32, a software engineer. But it has its moments. “In 2017, the city saw the heaviest rains in 100 years. Most of us were awake at 3 am, people were sending flooding alerts, and for the first time, my rain gauge was overflowing,” Xavier says. “Sometimes it’s even hard to concentrate on work, when the clouds are moving in. There are very few things in life that are as exciting as observing a rain shaft approaching you or the distant lightening or the build-up of cumulus clouds on a hot humid summer afternoon indicating a stormy evening.”
The amateur weathermen certainly do add flavour to the meteorological sciences, says YEA Raj, retired deputy director general of meteorology at the Regional Meteorological Centre in Chennai.
“Professionals have to function within certain constraints. They are bound by the body’s rules and regulations. Amateur weathermen can function outside these constraints, but they still need to define their lakshman rekha (boundaries), because the weather is a multidisciplinary and unpredictable science.”