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Rain Men

Narayan Bhai Chawda, a farmer at Gomchi village in Chhattisgarh’s capital Raipur, says he has been getting weather-based agro-advisories regularly every Tuesday and Friday evening since 1992.
“Although, we have been involved in agriculture for 30-35 years, these agro-advisories are certainly playing a very important role in planning our activities,” says Chawda, who grows mainly vegetables and cereals on his farm.
Increasingly, to meet India’s centuries old natural curses – heat, floods and drought -the country’s planners are turning to technology for salvation. And the results, like Chawda’s, prove that things are on the right course.
What a difference one year can make. In 2015, this country of over 1.34 billion was caught up in the throes of a sizzling heat wave.
So sizzling that in April-May that year, 2,500 people lost their lives, making India the world’s fifth largest country where such deaths were reported.
The victims of this merciless onslaught covered a vast swathe of the country, from Rajasthan and Gujarat in the west to Madhya Pradesh in central India; from Punjab in the north to Bihar, Odisha and West Bengal in the east to Andhra Pradesh (1,735 deaths) and Telangana (585) in south India.
In 2016, the situation changed for the better in ways not visualised until then. The temperature had risen higher than the previous year, yet the casualties had come down drastically to 375.
Far from any divine intervention, the reason for this welcome change was entirely human: along with accurate weather forecasting, there is in place a well-coordinated action plan from various government agencies to tackle the problem.
Typically, heat wave occurs during the dry season, which lasts from March to June with peak temperatures in April and May, which rise from 44 to 48 degree celsius, particularly in these states prone to high casualties.

Says AK Sahai, head of Climate Research and Services at the India Meteorology Department (IMD) and head of IMD, Pune: “Weather forecasting is improving by the day and many government agencies are now making a concerted effort to mitigate the problem.”
“It is not enough,” he told the Financial Chronicle, “to forecast weather accurately, but also to act on it timely and suitably.”
The weatherman says deaths due to the heat wave in 2016 were significantly lesser as compared to 2015 because the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and various relevant state government agencies worked on a war footing on a heat wave action plan to spread awareness and put into place preventative measures.
“This heat wave action plan, which was launched in Ahmedabad in Gujarat in 2010, is now working in many cities like Nagpur, which experience heat wave,” Sahai points out.
Some measures initiated were advisories for people not to venture out in the heat between 12 noon to 5 pm, keeping those parks open for public that were earlier closed, apart from making water available.
Things are on the move. The latest by the ministry of earth science (MoES), which runs the 141-year-old IMD, is to detect and predict lightning to prevent loss of human life and livestock on account of lightning strikes across the country.

Nabansu Chattopadhyay, head of Agricultural Meteorology Division at IMD, says rearing of livestock and poultry is more lucrative in generating more revenue today than cereal crops. “Therefore, meteorological services for livestock and poultry are very important, particularly during heat and cold waves and other extreme weather conditions,” he told Financial Chronicle.
Last year, it is calculated that 424 people perished due to lightning strikes in the country. Both Odisha and Madhya Pradesh reported over 100 such deaths.
In order to prevent losses due to lightning, the ministry of earth sciences set up the Lightning Location Network (LLN) in 2014, which is operational round-the- clock at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) in Pune.
For starters, the LNN has installed lightning detecting sensors at 20 locations in Maharashtra including Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur, Nashik, Mahabaleshwar, Ratnagiri, Kohlapur, Vengurla, Solapur, Latur, Aurangabad, Jalgaon, Akola, Yevatmal, Chandrapur, Parbhani, Harihareshwar, Beed, Dhule and Gondia.
Out of the 40 fatal cases of lightning strikes reported in the pre-monsoon months of April and May in 2016, the majority was from Marathawada and Vidharbha regions in Maharashtra.
The LLN at present detects thunderstorm development two hours in advance and can issue an alert only after the first lightning flash strikes, after which experts monitor and predict the possible path of the lightning in the next five minutes, before sending out warnings. It is as mechanised as that.

The LLN also sends an SOS to the state government, which then alerts the concerned disaster management cells in the affected district. The cell, in turn, sends SMS alerts warning people to stay indoors or at a safer shelter.
On April 3, the IMD organised a three-day training workshop on lightning and other extreme events at IITM, Pune, for officials from several states to minimise loss of life and livestock because of lightning.
Sahai says considering the high casualty rate, MoES has now decided to expand the LLN to northeastern India, one of the most lightning-prone regions in the country.
The ministry has sanctioned Rs 15 crore for installing 30 lightning detection sensors that will be placed in the northeast and at the foothills of the Himalayas this year.
About 142 lightening detecting sensors have been installed by the
Indian Air Force’s (IAF) Directorate of Meteorology at their air bases around the country to protect its warplanes.
Sunil Pawar, director at Lightning Location Network and project director, Thunderstorms Dynamics at IITM, told Financial Chronicle, “Every year about 250 people die due to lightning strikes in Maharashtra alone.”
The IMD also forecasts other extreme events such as snowfall and floods. The Uttarakhand flood on June 17, 2013 was the worst of its kind, but “because of the accurate forecast, it helped a lot,” Sahai says, adding, “People were asked to stay put wherever they were for two days in order to save their lives.”
In the event of cyclones, government agencies are taking serious note of the warning and coordinating efforts to minimise loss of human life and livestock.
The IMD provides three types of forecasting: 1) Daily forecast for the next seven days, 2) Weekly forecast (or extended range) for the next three-four weeks and 3) seasonal forecast for every month. For instance, in the case of monsoon, it will give the first forecast in mid-April and then every month after that.
The IMD also gives out medium and short-range forecasts for 10 days and 3-5 days respectively.
These estimates are used both for water resource management and crop management across the country.

Importantly, they also help in saving a lot of money. “In 2015, Kerala faced power scarcity and the government wanted to buy electricity from neighbouring Karnataka. When they saw our weather forecast for the next 10 days, which predicted good rainfall, officials postponed their decision and saved crores of rupees,” Sahai points out.
He claims that IMD’s forecast for fisheries also held save Rs 36,000 crore on diesel used by fishing boats from Gujarat coast to Goa, Kerala and from Tamil Nadu to Andhra Pradesh and Odisha.
“With the help of the forecast for fishermen issued by the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Service, Hyderabad, boatmen instead of wandering about, were guided by our forecast for accurate places and caught good fish,” he explains.
Sahay says this successful forecast for fishermen to land their catch was possible because of high- powered performance computers installed at the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information, Hyderabad.
How does the IMD prepare its monsoon forecasts?
It has been using a state-of-the-art statistical ensemble forecasting system based on eight parameters representing various physical mechanisms like El Nino, Indian Ocean Dipole, Northern Hemispheric Land Heating, Mid Latitude Wave Activity and others, responsible for the year-to-year variation of the monsoon rainfall over the country as a whole.
Five parameters requiring data up to March, is used for preparing forecast in April. Six parameters (including three parameters used in April forecast) are used for preparing the estimate in June.

These models are developed under in house research activities. However, the predictors set are obtained by stringent screening process of several existing and new predictors identified by in-house research, as well as identified by other researchers both from India and abroad.
For example, there are thousands of research papers (both from India and abroad) that discuss the El Nino-Indian monsoon relationship through observed as well as modeling studies.
In an earlier interview, D Sivananda Pai, India’s chief monsoon forecaster at IMD, had told Financial Chronicle: “These studies have indicated without doubt that though there are several factors that affect the Indian monsoon, El Nino is the most prominent indicator of the year-to-year variation of the Indian monsoon rainfall.”
According to him, the methodology of the present model is discussed at several scientific forums both in India and abroad and is peer reviewed by an international journal before being implemented for operational forecasting.
“So the model methodology is based on sound science and latest statistical methodology,” points out Pai.
For purposes of forecasting, he said the IMD is also using the Monsoon Mission experimental- coupled dynamic climatic model developed by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, under the ministry of earth sciences.

In order to fine tune weather forecasting, the MoES in 2009 installed high performing computers (HPCs) in four places: IITM, Pune, IMD-Delhi, National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting, Noida and the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information, Hyderabad.
In 2013, the ministry installed the second set of HPCs at IITM, Pune and the National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting, Noida.
“Now the ministry has ordered a bigger system, increasing its power from 1 peta flops to 10 peta flops. The new system will be installed over the next six months,” Sahai says, which would insert much more accuracy in forecasting.

At present, the IMD is using the 25km by 25km high-resolution global model for preparing weather forecasting under the National Monsoon Mission project of MoES, which has invested over Rs 400 crore.
“This latest model will be very useful for preparing weather forecast for block or taluka level,” explains Sahai. At present, the IMD issues weather forecasts for districts across the country.
Since January 2017, the IMD has carried out this block-level pilot project in collaboration with Pune-based Watershed Organisation Trust, (WOTR) at five locations in Madhya Maharashtra and Marathawada regions, primarily for agriculture using the weather forecast for block level.
“After studying its accuracy results, we are planning to replicate it in all states in a phased manner,” says IMD’s Chattopadhyay.
This is a significant pilot project being undertaken for the benefit of millions of farmers. After studying the accuracy of the forecast and its usefulness, more people would be trained and it would be replicated in other regions in a phased manner to issue crop and location- specific advisories, which would ultimately help in increasing productivity and income of farmers, he explains.
Chattopadhyay says at present IMD is making all out efforts to generate advisories at district-level under the Gramin Krishi Mousum Seva project to generate appropriate advisories, using medium range and other forecasts to increase productivity and minimise losses during extreme weather conditions.
For example, if IMD forecasts heat wave in a particular region well in advance, then farmers could be advised to provide cold water with nutrients and other care to livestock and poultry so that sustained milk production and eggs are not impacted.
He also says that at present these advisories are disseminated to around 21 million people on their mobiles phones.

India has about 6,500 blocks and to send these advisories to a large number of farmers twice a week on Tuesday and Friday, would greatly benefit crop production.
“It is a gigantic task to prepare and disseminate advisories to each of these blocks, which needs automation and IMD is exploring all possible efforts in this regard,” he points out.
At present, there are 130 Agromet Field Units, which are located at State Agricultural Universities, the Indian Council of Agriculture Research (ICAR) and Indian Institute of Technologies (IIT). These centres in collaboration with IMD prepare and issue Agromet advisories through different multi-channel dissemination systems.
“We will be adding another 530 new stations, named as District Agromet Units, to take the tally to 660 during the next three years. This network will serve the farmer community in the country efficiently at the local level,” asserts Chattopadhyay.

These Agromet Units would also handle medium range forecasting for the next five days and provide crop advisories to specific districts initially.
But even this may not be enough for farmers. “They need extended range forecast for 15 days and also a seasonal monthly forecast to help farmers select appropriate crops for good yields,” he points out.
For instance, if farmers in the Marathawada district in Maharashtra were to know in May that June would be dry and the first half of July would also be dry, they would not go for sowing normal cotton or soyabean crops, but would opt for short-duration, medium-duration or inter-cropping of crops depending on the forecast provided, he explains.
Chattopadhyay says some initial experiments have been made in the extended range (15 days) forecast in agriculture and it has proved to be useful, but more studies are required to confirm its full usability for farmers. Monthly and seasonal forecasts are being used successfully in advanced countries in Europe, USA and Australia.
At present, Agrimet issues advisories for strategic planning of crops based on extended range of weather forecasts for 15 days for farmers across the country. “Now, we want to start some experiments using monthly and seasonal advisories for farmers,” he states.
Reputed National Council of Applied Economic Research, Delhi, carried out a comprehensive third party assessment of socio-economic benefits of Agromet services in 2015.
Its report pointed out that the country’s farming community is using Agro-Meteorological Advisory Services products for critical actions during their farm operations. These are management of sowing in case of delayed onset of rains, shifting to short-duration crop varieties in case of a long-term delay in rainfall, deferring of spraying of pesticides for disease control on forecast of occurrence of rainfall in near future and managing (curtailing) artificial irrigation in case of heavy rainfall forecast.
This study also suggests that IMD’s Agro­met Advisory Project has the potential of generating net economic benefit up to Rs 3.3 lakh crore on the 4-principal crops alone when Agro-Meteorological Advisory Services is fully utilised by 95.4 million agriculture-dependent households.

Like Chavda, the trend is catching on. Farmer Gurjeet Singh from Naruana village in Bathinda, Punjab, made inquiries about the weather because he wanted to sow cotton in his 7-acre farm.
Since there was possibility of rain in the days ahead, he was advised not to sow cottonseed, as it would affect germination due to crust formation.
”Following the Agrimet advice, I saved around Rs 7,000 on cotton seeds, which would have been used on my 7-acre field,” explains Singh, with a touch of pride. Really, what can’t technology do?
michaelgonsalves@mydigitalfc.com

This post was syndicated from mydigitalfc.com - Home. Click here to read the full text on the original website.

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