Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Indian Weather

Almost an NRI of sorts, I decided to get back in touch with my roots by looking up the weather in Motherland. And I was in for quite an ordeal. I clicked on ndtv.com and tried to check out the weather in India. I went to their weather site and clicked on Delhi. Minimum 8C. Nothing worrisome. Normal, I reckoned. I checked out other places too. Pune showed a low of 18! It felt a little suspicious, but I let that go.

Then I came to the main page and saw the headlines. Delhi had its coldest day in 70 years. Frost. 0.2 C! What the hell was the 8c doing on the weather map? Pune was enjoying a brisk 8C in the morning. Not Delhi, as I found out later after digging the IMD website. NDTV (Pranoy Roy et. al.) should really do some serious thinking before they try to pass this crap in the name of weather.

Talking of crap in climate journalism, one must not forget to mention the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD). Their website bears a dilapidated and decrepit look, reminding one of the internet when it was new. (www.imd.ernet.in). If you dig in deep enough, you will find Doppler and satellite imagery of sorts buried under mounds of verbosity. In the US, these are always standard. Clicking a concealed link in one of the pages will lead to the "current weather observations" table, in which the "current" temperature of cities (selected at random) is shown in an HTML table. The saving grace, of course is that these observations are accurate. But really, the presentation disgusts one and all.

Compare this with the American noaa.gov website. Kind of reinforces the notion that America is way more developed than India, doesn't it?

Freakish weather was, once upon a time, attributed to God. Now, it is the omnipotent El - Ninio. If there isn't ample reason to blame the El~Nino or the La~Nina (if the weather-girl in the news channel can't pronounce it, that is), then the Western Disturbance over Pakistan caused it. Makes poetic sense too - the hostile neighbor sending harsh weather.

I just mentioned weather girls. Weather girls are girls (as their name suggests) who look symmetric (and pretty?) and know as much about meteorology as I do about the string theory. And I don't know much. They are aired on TV channels, keen on enhancing their ratings.

India needs a more sophisticated weather information system. Period. Something like the weather channel in the USA. Or at least the NOAA website! Lots of farmers are being harassed by the unpredictability of our immediate weather. Better forecasting systems would go a long way in helping the farmers out, during the monsoon and the winter. Not to mention hurricanes (cyclones in India) and floods. Why not do it when we can? Why should we rely on age - old
methods ("rules of thumb") to predict the climate, when sophisticated methods can be used?

The IMD does seem to have some sort of information available. But in my opinion, they need to hire more experts and certainly improve their communication. Lots of lives can be saved by this. And India will be another centimeter closer to being a developed nation.

Looking at the USA, this surely can be done. Do something, Dr. Singh!

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