While planning ‘one nation, one poll’, officials should incorporate weather inputs: IMD chief

IMD is using artificial intelligence to enhance weather forecasts, he said

April 07, 2024 10:59 am | Updated 12:23 pm IST - New Delhi

IMD Director General Mrutyunjay Mohapatra during an interview with the PTI, in New Delhi.

IMD Director General Mrutyunjay Mohapatra during an interview with the PTI, in New Delhi. | Photo Credit: PTI

With the government contemplating the idea of simultaneous Lok Sabha and State elections, India Meteorological Department chief Mrutyunjay Mohapatra said the authorities should certainly take weather conditions and the climate into consideration when planning for such a massive exercise.

Mr. Mohapatra told PTI in an interview that India will experience intense heat during the general election period, and the IMD is providing specialised forecasts to help authorities prepare better, but it has not proposed a change in the timings of public rallies and voting.

Asked about the ideal time to hold elections, given the Central Government’s contemplation of the ‘one nation, one poll’ concept, the IMD Director General stressed that the authorities must consider weather conditions and the climate while planning.

‘One nation, one election’ refers to the idea of holding simultaneous polls in the country to elect Lok Sabha and state assembly representatives.

The government has proposed this idea, saying it would reduce the deployment of poll officials and security forces multiple times each year and decrease costs incurred by the public exchequer and political parties on their campaigns.

This year, around a billion people are expected to exercise their franchise during the seven-phase general elections between April 9 and June 1, heightening concerns about vulnerability to heat waves.

Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, and Andhra Pradesh are likely to record a significantly higher number of heatwave days, according to the national weather body.

There’s an elevated risk of heatwave-related health issues among the electorate and staff, Mr. Mohapatra said.

Given the extreme heat forecast, he said sufficient arrangements for water, cooling, and heat care should be made for public rallies and voting on election days.

“If people are in the queue, they should have sufficient water to drink. There should be a provision for first aid and health workers to help if people faint or suffer from sunstroke... and there should be shade. This is the minimum requirement in terms of preparations,” Mr. Mohapatra said.

He said the Election Commission of India consulted the IMD before announcing the poll schedule.

“We provided, at the initial stage, the climatological information for March, April, May, and June for different parts of the country so that they can make a judicious decision on which part and at what time they should conduct the elections,” he said.

“We are also issuing all types of forecasts and warnings on a daily, weekly, monthly, and seasonal basis,” he added.

The IMD has identified areas that are expected to record above-normal temperatures and heatwave conditions.

The weather office is also providing “feel-like temperature” forecasts, which combine the effect of temperature, humidity, and wind speed to give a better idea of how the weather would actually feel outside.

It is also providing forecasts for “warm nights”, where night temperatures are on the higher side, making it difficult for people to sleep.

“All these products are being generated and provided to the general public, district administrators, and state-level authorities.

Stakeholders including health, power, labour, agriculture, water resources, and many more at the central level and the state level, as well as the Election Commission and state election commissions, are being provided with this information regularly. This information will certainly help them plan accordingly for the election process,” Mr. Mohapatra said.

Asked how severe the heat would be during the elections, the IMD chief said above-normal maximum temperatures are likely over most parts of the country in the April-June period, with a high probability over central and western peninsular India.

Four to eight heatwave days are expected in different parts of the country in April against a normal of one to three days. Ten to 20 days of heatwave are expected against a normal of four to eight days in the entire April-June period, he said.

The areas predicted to see more heatwave days are Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Maharashtra, Vidarbha, Marathwada, Bihar, and Jharkhand. Some places may record over 20 days of heatwave.

“Based on our early warning, the National Disaster Management Authority has issued some guidance to the Election Commission based on the forecast of March 1. Now, the April 1 forecast has been communicated, and I hope the Election Commission and NDMA will again discuss and finalise the course of action,” Mr. Mohapatra said.

The IMD chief said the national weather body has not suggested a change in timings (of public rallies and voting during elections).

“This decision has to be taken by the authorities concerned. But the general guidance from the NDMA and others is that there should be some provision for cooling, water and basic health facilities.

“For example: we have to take into consideration people who will be working as election agents, and election officers in the booths. Therefore, their room should also have the facility to combat the rising temperature,” he said.

The death of several people at a Navi Mumbai rally last year due to high heat and humidity prompted the IMD to issue a special warning combining heat and humidity, Mr. Mohapatra said.

“If the temperature is at least three degrees Celsius above normal and relative humidity is above normal, we are issuing a warning for that particular district or a particular area,” he said, adding that Navi Mumbai did not experience a heatwave at the time of the incident last year but high humidity and long exposure led to the incident.

“So, there are two aspects: One aspect we have addressed this year; we are providing warnings (for hot and humid weather), but you also have to take preparatory measures while you are planning for such a gathering. There should certainly be provisions for water, shade, and cooling,” the IMD chief said.

He also said the intense heat could strain power grids, impact the winter-grown crops, and result in water shortages in parts of India.

IMD is using artificial intelligence

India’s weather scientists have started harnessing the power of artificial intelligence and machine learning to enhance weather forecasts, Mr. Mohapatra said. In a free-wheeling interaction, he said over the next few years, the emerging technologies would also complement numerical weather forecasting models which are widely used at present to predict weather.

He said the weather office has been increasing observational systems to make mesoscale weather forecasts at the panchayat level or over 10 sq km area at a faster rate.

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) has deployed a network of 39 doppler weather radars that cover 85% of the country’s landmass and enable hourly forecasts for prominent cities, Mr. Mohapatra said.

“We have started using Artificial Intelligence in a limited way but within the next five years, AI will significantly enhance our models and techniques,” he said.

Mr. Mohapatra said the IMD has digitised weather records for the country dating back to 1901 and artificial intelligence could be used to sift through this plentiful information to generate knowledge about weather patterns.

Artificial intelligence models are data science models which do not go into the physics of the phenomena but utilise past data to generate knowledge that can be used to make better forecasts, the IMD director general said.

He said expert groups have been formed in the Ministry of Earth Sciences and the IMD to harness artificial intelligence.

“Both artificial intelligence and numerical forecasting models will complement each other to improve forecast accuracy. Both will work hand in hand and nobody can replace the other,” Mr. Mohapatra said.

Addressing the need for hyper-localized forecasts, Mr. Mohapatra acknowledged IMD’s challenges in delivering village-level predictions for specific hazards.

“We aim to provide forecasts at the Panchayat or village level...tailoring weather information to sector-specific needs in agriculture, health, urban planning, hydrology, and environment,” he said.

The IMD chief stressed the importance of data-driven decision-making in the era of information abundance.

“Incorporating AI and machine learning allows us to harness past data to extract valuable insights and improve forecasting accuracy without solely relying on traditional physics-based models,” he said.

On the impact of climate change on weather predictability, Mr. Mohapatra noted the emergence of mesoscale phenomena like convective clouds on a small scale, affecting local communities.

To tackle this, he said IMD has strategically deployed Doppler weather radars covering 85% of the country.

This advanced radar data, with a resolution of 350 meters per pixel, enables the detection and simulation of convective clouds, significantly enhancing forecast accuracy for extreme events like heavy rainfall and cyclones, he added.

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