With monsoons not far away, IMD woefully short of automatic weather stations

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Ahead of the monsoon season, when more observation stations can help monitor the weather better, almost half of the automatic weather stations (AWS) and automatic rain gauges (ARG) of the India Meteorological Department (IMD) have outlived, rendering them incapable.

The IMD is the dedicated government agency under the Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) that carries out extensive monitoring and detection of current weather, and predicts forthcoming weather events in the short, medium and long range. These warnings also include extreme weather events such as cyclones, floods, heavy snowfall etc.

Of the total 727 AWS and 1,382 ARGs, barely 550 are working, while the rest have outlived or have some other issues, as per the data from the official records.

The IMD continuously expands its infrastructure — replacing obsolete AWS is part of the process — for meteorological observations, data exchange, monitoring and analysis, forecasting and warning services using contemporary technology.

For the same, the agency “uses a suite of quality observations from satellites, radars and conventional and automatic weather stations for monitoring of cyclones and prediction of weather,” said an IMD scientist.

If the IMD is to be believed, it has been in the process of installing new AWS and ARGs across the country for about two years now, but it is facing procedural issues.

“The tendering was done last year and the vendor did supply almost everything. But a major problem came when in one of the regions, the vendor supplied GI Pipe instead of the aluminum specified for the mast. In another region, a particular sensor did not conform to the specification. Issues such as these have hampered the process of installation of AWS/ARGs,” said a senior scientist.

The absence of data or inaccurate data from almost half of the AWS/ARGs puts obvious limitations. The granularity in data offers better monitoring, especially in case of disasters. Several states have taken recourse to private agencies claiming that IMD has not been able to provide them finer data alerts, say at tehsil or block levels.

Disagreeing with the connection of large number of AWS/ARGs with forecast, former Director General (meteorology), Ranjan Kelkar, said, “More number of AWS or ARGs would help in better monitoring, but the larger number does not necessarily help in medium, long and extended range forecast.”

The IMD generates forecasts at a 12 km grid globally and a 3 km grid over India/regional/mega city domains for its ensemble forecast models.

“If you are using a 10-km grid, what happens between the two points has no relevance to the model. The local observations help only for monitoring and not for forecasts in the medium or long range,” Kelkar added.

When contacted, M Ravichandran, Secretary, Ministry of Earth Sciences, agreed that the AWS/ARGs are indeed running short of designated numbers.

“We have sorted out the procedural issues. Before monsoon, all AWS/ARGs would be installed,” he told IANS.

(Nivedita Khandekar can be reached at nivedita.k@ians.in)

20220403-084727

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