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Posts Tagged ‘Indian Meteorological Department

Monsoon mysteries, mundane mathematics

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Rainfall averages for the months of January to August 2013, nicely arranged in one handy panel.

Rainfall averages for the months of January to August 2013, nicely arranged in one handy panel.

June, July and August 2013 are behind us and India’s understanding of the south-west monsoon – and also of climate change during monsoon and outside the monsoon months – has scarcely improved.

Other than the announcements from the Indian Meteorological Department, which are unintelligible to anyone with even the smallest interest in monsoon and climate, there is little in India’s media or from official sources that helps turn an embarrassing scarcity of understanding into knowledge.

The IMD, I was told about two years ago by a senior crop scientist, is queried every day by officious underlings from New Delhi wanting to know weather conditions for wherever their bosses are to visit, and this means the ministers of the cabinet, sundry senior and junior ministers, all variety of politicians and all their scheming cronies and hangers-on. That is why the IMD has so many special forecasts for New Delhi on its website. For the Indian Meteorological Department, India outside Delhi seems to be an annoyance.

IMD-rainmap_imagedummyThere are science institutes, such as the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, which is, as far as I can make out, the seat of the scientific inquiry into monsoon and climate. The communication about its work however is either dismal or absurdly comic. Scientists long ago realised that to be of use to society, they had to make their questions and answers understood by those whom they wish to serve.

In such a spirit, India’s monsoon and climate scientists and researchers ought to have begun their careers with a session before their grandmothers – could they explain their work to their grandmothers? If not, they ought not to have been accepted in their present jobs (and their grandmothers should be inducted instead, for the wealth of their traditional knowledge).

And this is why we have gobbledygook such as this – from the IMD, about the 2013 September forecast:

“The 5-parameter PCR model was also used to prepare probability forecasts for the pre-defined 3 (tercile) categories of rainfall during the second half of the monsoon season. These are below normal (<90% of LPA), near normal (90-110% of LPA), above normal (>110% of LPA). The tercile categories have equal climatological probabilities (33.33%  each).  The  forecasted  probabilities  for  the  September  2013  rainfall  over  the country as a whole in percentage for the above tercile categories are  31%,  53%, and 16% respectively.”

Can the Director General of Meteorology – who is the head of the IMD – explain this to his washerman, his gardener and the chap who sells him vegetables? If not, he ought to make way for someone who can, because India understands the DG of M not at all, and we’re not paying his salary and departmental budget from our taxes to be misspoken to about the rain.

Just so that you know, this verbally challenged gentleman is assisted in his duties by five Additional Directors General and by 20 Deputy Directors General. And when I examined where this chatty group is deployed, the Delhi obsession (or fear thereof) became immediately clear, for of the five Additionals, four are in Delhi (the fifth is in Pune), and of the 20 Deputies, ten are in Delhi (the others are over the capital’s horizon, toiling somewhere in the torpor of the sub-continent.

The IMD runs six regional meteorological centres – each ruled by a humourless Deputy Director General, all morbid conversationalists – and these are to be found at Mumbai, Chennai, New Delhi, Kolkata, Nagpur and Guwahati. Then the IMD has what it importantly calls ‘operational units’: meteorological centres at state capitals, forecasting offices, agro-meteorological advisory service centres, flood meteorological offices, area cyclone warning centres and cyclone warning centres. All important centres, all equally incoherent about their work, all equally clueless about how to speak simply with those who need the forecasts the most.

But the disease of obscurantist climatic communication is to be found also in the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, to wit: “However, the extended range predictability arises from Monsoon Intraseasonal Oscillations (MISOs) which are the quasi-periodic northward propagating large-scale convective cloud bands that manifest as the active/break spells, as described earlier.”

What will it take to get these scientists and researchers to understand that monsoon, rain, weather and climate are of great interest to most adults amongst the country’s 1.25 billion-strong population, and that by mumbling only to each other in equations and formulae they continue to do us a mis-service, and in fact shirk their main duty?

What ails the South Asian monsoon?

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Rainfall in India’s meteorological sub-divisions for the 2012 monsoon. The India Meteorological Department (IMD) has finally admitted that this year will be a drought, as it has forecast rainfall for August and September as “below normal”. Map: IMD

This set of images helps explain the worrying 2012 monsoon season in South Asia and why drought conditions are emerging in more districts with every passing week.

We are coming up to the eight-week mark of the 2012 monsoon (taking the 04-06 June date as the ‘normal’ for the monsoon to become active over south-west India, after which the climatological system slowly advances over the peninsula and up into northern India).

The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) has not helped, by maintaining a scientific detachment between forecasting science and the dire situation of farmers and consumers. With emergency drought programmes new being rolled out in many states (more than a month late), the IMD’s refusal to speak plainly to those who need the information the most is unpardonable.

Worse, the Department on its website and its communications walls off its forecasting behind a very unfriendly science interface (see this commentary for a detailed explanation), and appears oblivious about its responsibilities to those for whom it exists – the citizens of India who are waiting for rain.

This set of images (strips below, you can click on the images for the full-size versions) describes what the IMD ought to be disseminating (but stubbornly refuses to). These are 24, 48, 72 and 96 hour regional forecasts for South Asia of accumulated precipitation and temperature extremes.

Day 1 – 02 Aug 2012

Day 2 – 03 Aug 2012

Day 3 – 04 Aug 2012

Day 4 – 05 Aug 2012

The four regions you see in the panels are Peninsular India and Sri Lanka, Western India and Pakistan, Northern & Central India and Nepal, and Eastern India and Bangladesh. These are from the monsoon forecasting sub-site of the Center for Ocean-Land-Atmosphere Studies – of the Institute of Global Environment and Society (IGES) – which processes and synthesises data from the NOAA/NCEP, which is the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA, the US government agency), National Centers for Environmental Prediction. These regional weather forecasts are presented as a running four-day ensemble of images showing daily forecasts of 2-metre temperature minima and maxima and accumulated precipitation covering the four sub-regions.

Three scant weeks of monsoon 2012

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Rainfall over India for the season (right) till mid-June 2012, and a week (left). Too many reds and yellows for this time of June. Graphic: IMD

Three weeks into monsoon 2012 and we are seeing growing rainfall deficits in India. The Indian Meteorological Department, accustomed to sobordinating its forecasting methods to political calculations about the socio-economic impacts of a delayed / below-average monsoon, is still saying the rains are “slightly delayed but not yet a worry for farming”. This is even though its data are pointing to almost all parts of the country having received lower than average rainfall in the first three weeks of June.

“Overall monsoon progress is slightly behind schedule but such delays are usual,” L.S. Rathore, director-general of the India Meteorological Department (IMD), told the media, and for good measure added that there was no cause for concern yet. A national rainfall average has no meaning, as there are 36 meteorological sub-divisions, but even so India has received rains 26% below average so far since the beginning of the season. The Department had forecast an average monsoon in 2012 before the start of the four-month long rainy season in April. Now we await its second official monsoon forecast, due around now.

This seven-day rainfall chart and anomaly chart series shows where monsoon 2012 has failed to reach, and the size of the North Indian and Gangetic dry swathes are indeed worrying:

A seven-day chart series of actual, normal and anomaly rainfall for the third week of June. Charts from IMD

Written by makanaka

June 21, 2012 at 17:01

Warmer seas, hotter land, stranger rain

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Temperature anomalies for April 2010 are shown on the dot maps below. The dot map on the left provides a spatial representation of anomalies calculated from the Global Historical Climatology Network (GHCN) dataset of land surface stations using a 1961–1990 base period. Image from State of the Climate, Global Analysis, April 2010, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Climatic Data Center

Temperature anomalies for April 2010 are shown on the dot maps below. The dot map on the left provides a spatial representation of anomalies calculated from the Global Historical Climatology Network (GHCN) dataset of land surface stations using a 1961–1990 base period. Image from State of the Climate, Global Analysis, April 2010, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Climatic Data Center

The signals in 2010 have been loud and clear and very very worrying.

I’ve taken these graphs and images from (1) the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Climatic Data Center and (2) the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme climate change index. Together they present the very worrying picture about climate in 2010.

For the first four months of 2010, I’ve taken two of the several salient observations made by NOAA-NCDC for each month. Here they are:

January
* The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for January 2010 was 0.60°C (1.08°F) above the 20th century average of 12.0°C (53.6°F). This is the fourth warmest January on record.
* The global land surface temperature for January 2010 was 0.83°C (1.49°F) above the 20th century average of 2.8°C (37.0°F). Land areas in the Southern Hemisphere were the warmest on record for January.

From the climate change index of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) of the International Council for ScienceFebruary
* In the Southern Hemisphere, both the February 2010 average temperature for land areas and the Hemisphere as a whole (land and ocean surface combined), represented the warmest February on record. The Southern Hemisphere ocean temperature tied with 1998 as the warmest February on record.
* The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for December 2009 – February 2010 was the fifth warmest on record for the season, 0.57°C (1.03°F) above the 20th century average of 12.1°C (53.8°F).

March
* The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for March 2010 was the warmest on record at 13.5°C (56.3°F), which is 0.77°C (1.39°F) above the 20th century average of 12.7°C (54.9°F). This was also the 34th consecutive March with global land and ocean temperatures above the 20th century average.
* The worldwide ocean surface temperature was 0.56°C (1.01°F) above the 20th century average of 15.9°C (60.7°F) and the warmest March on record.

From the climate change index of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) of the International Council for Science

From the climate change index of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) of the International Council for Science

April
* The combined global land and ocean average surface temperature for April 2010 was the warmest on record at 14.5°C (58.1°F), which is 0.76°C (1.37°F) above the 20th century average of 13.7°C (56.7°F). This was also the 34th consecutive April with global land and ocean temperatures above the 20th century average.
* The worldwide ocean surface temperature was 0.57°C (1.03°F) above the 20th century average of 16.0°C (60.9°F) and the warmest April on record. The warmth was most pronounced in the equatorial portions of the major oceans, especially the Atlantic.

What’s a lot worse is the bland monsoon forecasts by the Indian Meteorological Department, which as an institute appears to pay little attention to the global forces shaping our subcontinental climate.

State of the Climate, Global Analysis, April 2010, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Climatic Data Center

Land temperature anomalies. From State of the Climate, Global Analysis, April 2010, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Climatic Data Center.

Take this announcement: “The 2010 monsoon is running ahead of schedule, as the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) has said rain was recorded in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands before its normal arrival at this first landmark on the south-west monsoon’s progression across the sub-continent. Rainfall is likely to be 98% of the long-term average said the IMD. “Rainfall for the country as a whole is is likely to be normal,” said an IMD spokesperson and qualified this forecast by noting that the model has an error margin of 5%.”

They made a very similar pre-monsoon announcement in 2009, and by early July, when it was obvious to all that the rains were going to fall way under the seasonal average, the IMD amended its forecast. They’ve been talking about delivering district-level forecasts to farmers for the monsoon in 2010. When they won’t look macro, how on earth are they going to understand micro?