Unhappy with IMD, Kerala tests private forecasts

The Kerala government’s decision builds on an earlier order from April 30 where it said it was dissatisfied with the IMD.   | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

For the first time, a State government will be funding private weather companies for providing alerts and warnings about extreme climate events. Traditionally, weather warnings have been the domain of the India Meteorological Department.

Also read: Skymet says monsoon is in; IMD waits

An order by the Kerala government's Disaster Management Department issued on June 19 and viewed by The Hindu, authorises the release of ₹95 lakh to three private companies — Skymet Private Ltd, Earth Networks and IBM Weather Company — to use “ensemble predictions to improve extreme weather alert services in the State.”

The devastating floods of 2019 in Kerala have heightened concerns about the state of extreme-weather preparedness in Kerala. The order states that these services solicited would be part of a 1 year pilot project.

The Kerala government’s decision builds on an earlier order from April 30 where it said it was dissatisfied with the IMD. The Kerala State Disaster Management Authority (KSDMA) had reviewed the State's preparedness in terms of weather prediction and the IMD's preparedness. The IMD, that order reads, had promised to ready15 Automatic Weather Stations (AWS) before the monsoon. “Unfortunately no new AWS has come up and the near time data streaming is minimal to nil,” the letter rues.

Also read: Kerala to source weather inputs from four private agencies

“With such an unreliable network....the State will not be able to localise alerts. None of the major requirements of the State have been met and this impedes disaster management capabilities of the State,” it adds.

AWS measure windspeed, humidity, rainfall and relays the data to centralised systems that are used to provide weather forecasts. The IMD’s inability to provide services were the reason to solicit the services of “reputed” private weather companies, the letter adds.

A senior official associated with the IMD told The Hindu on condition of anonymity that the IMD was unable to accede to the Kerala government’s requirement because of disagreements over the location of the AWS. After cyclone Ockhi of 2017 claimed the lives of several fishermen in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the IMD as part of sprucing up the State's weather warning capabilities committed to installing 100 AWS. However these could only be installed as per a pre-defined IMD protocol.

Also read: Late or early? Forecast agencies differ on monsoon’s arrival in Kerala

“They wanted us to install them in certain places and we couldn't do that. Moreover there are three Doppler Weather Radars and already a strong forecast mechanism in the State,” the official with the IMD said.

Jatin Singh, CEO, Skymet said his company had already made an app, called Kerala Rain, that issued 15-day forecasts and “real time monitoring” for 100 weather stations. “It gives location specific notice about possible floods in a region,” said Mr. Singh.

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An earlier headline for this article stated that Kerala had 'switched to' private weather services. That was incorrect.  It is a one-year pilot project.

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Printable version | Sep 26, 2021 2:46:01 PM |

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