Our weather forecast resolution has improved by 10 times in a decade: Mrutyunjay Mohapatra, Director General of Meteorology, IMD
Mohapatra is in Geneva to attend the World Meteorological Congress, where India has just won an election for a seat in the executive council of World Meteorological Organisation
Q: Congratulations on winning the seat for India at the executive council.
A: Normally these are decided my unanimity. However, this time for the five seats for Asia there were six nominees, and we needed to have elections and India got 110 out of 143 votes. Along with India, Iran, China, Japan and Korea will be on the executive council from Asia.
Q: You are known as the cyclone man of India. Do tell us about how IMD improved on its cyclone tracking and weather forecasting models in the last decade.
A: Ten years back our predictions and forecast were purely subjective, without any numerical models and lack of adequate observational tools. If you remember the super cyclone of 1999, we could issue a warning only 24 hours before it hit the Odisha coast. In 2003 we got our first radar. Insat 3D and Insat 3DR came in 2013 and 2017. Using these two we can get satellite images every 15 minutes. With Scatsat launched by in 2016, we started getting wind speed on the sea surface. Now not only are we suitably equipped, with satellite imagery, but we also have observational tools like automatic weather stations across the coast line and on buoys and ships over sea and landmass. That was the first step. Secondly we improved our data analysis. The third step was assimilating it, and we inherited the best models from USA, UK and Japan and customized them. Now we run seven models, while in 2007 we had only one.
Q: Around monsoon prediction, there is a demand for more granular data, as a country we see flood as well as drought every year. What is IMD doing about this?
A: We are also moving in the same direction. We have started something called ‘nowcasting’ which forecasts weather in the next few hours in 433 cities. Currently we provide district-level guidance for monsoon related information across the country. We are also running a pilot in 200 blocks for block level guidance and will soon extend it to 6600 blocks. Also our forecasting resolution was 120 kilometres in 2008. Today we are able to attain a resolution of every 12 kilometres. That means it is a 10 times improvement. Also we are collaborating with all the state governments. If you visit our website you will see there is now a separate site for the power sector. One cyclone forecast was able to help save almost Rs 500 crore for the sector. Our agri-advisory is also available on our website. We have started heat wave and cold wave forecasts as well.
Q: Today there are multiple sources of data and forecasts too, from Indian and global private companies. How do you see this development?
A: It would be ideal if the private sector does not try to replicate our efforts as a rival but play complementary and collaborative role. We are the nodal body, but we cannot prescribe to others, neither can we discourage anyone. We have also made our data completely free and accessible on our website. If you compare our forecast capability, we are now even better than Japan. And we are constantly improving our systems and our forecasting abilities