Natural disasters account to a loss of USD 4 billion to India’s economy. The work to predict natural disasters is in the hands of Indian Meteorological Department since its inception. In 1980, IMD got its first supercomputer to track city level weather forecasting. India knows that it needs high precision supercomputers and satellite to avoid the loss of human and cattle lives. In 1999, a category 5 cyclone hit the eastern state of Odisha killing more than 10,000 people. Due to lack of precisive technology, the cyclone movements was predicted just 48 hours ago. Due to improper disaster management facilities, lakhs of families could not be moved to a safe place. India learnt its lesson, the hard way.

Learning its lessons from the super-cyclone of 1999, Odisha over the years, emerged as a role model in disaster preparedness. With decades of positive intervention by the government, civil society groups, and NGOs, the state has received praise from numerous national and international organisations, including the United Nations.

In 2013, when cyclone Phailin rattled the Indian coasts, the government of Odisha undertook the largest ever evacuation, shifting 11 lakh people into safety. The state stood strong as rains lashed the landscape, and the death toll was contained to 21. Next year when cyclone Hudhud hit Odisha, the death toll was contained to just two.

Not just cyclones, we today can predict tsunami well before it hits India’s shores. The next frontier of IMD is the mighty monsoons. IMD has the tech to predict accurate rainfall before 48 hours but can’t predict last minute low-pressure areas. In August 2017, IMD had issued a heavy to very heavy warning t0 Mumbai and it failed to predict exact amount rain area wise. That day, areas like Parel, Santacruz and Mulund received more than 280 mm rain but some areas got less than 150 mm rain. With precisive block level forecasting, the authorities get the chance to move people from risky to less risky areas.

IMD has decided to induct 2 more supercomputers for accurate block level prediction. The cost of the computers is around Rs 500 crores each. The computing facility had already been augmented substantially by upgrading the capacity to 1,000 Teraflop or 1.1 Petaflop. Consequently, there has been a paradigm shift in weather and climate modelling activity for the operational weather forecast. The Ministry, he said, was also in the process of acquiring a polar research vessel so as to give a new thrust to its polar science programme. The tender for the vessel will be floated by the end of this year and it is likely to be ready in three years. IMD also plans to open 32 new weather stations.

Accurate and targeted weather forecasts are critical in India, where rain is the lifeline for about 880 million villagers who directly or indirectly depend on farming for a living. Drier weather can curb output in the world’s second-biggest grower of rice, wheat and sugar and cause drinking water shortages as reservoirs dry up, while floods due to heavy showers can kill hundreds and damage crops. The weather office plans to improve its forecasting capacity to a 1km grid for major cities by 2018, matching the precision of the UK’s Met Office. With a more detailed forecast from the weather bureau, farmers would be able to plan their farming activities better during the rainy season. We cannot avert natural disasters but we definitely can control the personal and financial loss of the affected.

– Chaitanya Kulkarni


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