Panel calls for better synergy between IMD and private weather forecasters

Need for one authoritative source of forecasts discussed, especially during extreme climate events like cyclones or flash floods

There is a need for better synergy between the India Meteorological Department (IMD) and private forecasters to avoid confusion, especially during extreme climate events like cyclones or flash floods, the Standing Committee on Science said in a meeting on Friday.

The Standing Committee was deliberating on the subject of “Update on Monsoon Situation in the Country”.

Chairman of the Committee and senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, according to the sources, said that while the entry of private players was inevitable, there must be one authoritative source of forecasts. “How that needs to be done must be worked out,” one of the members said.

Currently, there are three private players in India — Skymet (India), Earth Networks and IBM Weather. Both Skymet and IBM Weather were called for the meeting. While Skymet officials participated, IBM’s representatives could not participate owing to pandemic-induced travel restrictions.

In recent years, the IMD and Skymet have often made differing predictions on the monsoon. In June 2021, the Kerala government, dissatisfied with the IMD’s performance, hired Skymet Private Limited, Earth Networks and the IBM Weather Company — to use “ensemble predictions to improve extreme weather alert services in the State”.

The IMD was vociferous on the issue and said that multiple predictions often create unnecessary confusion. But the IMD, sources said, agreed to open up their data collection for private players to use. Secretary, Ministry of Earth Sciences, M. Rajeevan, according to sources, pointed out that in the U.S., which has many private players, there is only one authoritative source for extreme events like cyclones.

The members also expressed that, year after year, the IMD assesses the monsoon to be normal though the actual experience is different. Statistically, the members said, the monsoon may be normal in terms of the average rainfall, but most certainly the number of rainfall days had decreased. There have also been far more flash floods in recent times than ever before, the members pointed out. “What is perplexing is that this has not been captured in the forecast adequately,” another member said.

The committee also discussed the current monsoon forecast, deficit regions and States, urban heat islands, distribution of weather stations across districts, and matching meteorological sub-divisions with agro-climatic zones.

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