India is an agriculture based country with 48.83% arable land (2nd largest in the world after the US) and employing more than 50% of the nation’s workforce. Of all the seasons in our country, monsoon is the most important as this season mainly decides the yield of crops in a particular year. A dearth of rainfall will cause a drought whereas excess rainfall may cause serious damage to the yield of crops. So to a farmer who is actually sowing the seeds and tilling the land, accurate weather forecast is of extreme importance, especially the monsoon rainfall weather forecasts.
So far the methods applied by the scientists to arrive at a monsoon forecast are highly backdated involving lengthy calculations and comparing them with the statistical data available for the past years of rainfall. The process is not only time consuming but often the results are erroneous. Besides such method of calculation can only generate a forecast for the whole of the country but often prove to be of no use to the farmers. Keeping in mind the varied geography of the country, region specific forecasts is required which will be of actual help to the farmers. That means, an exact forecast of rainfall at the right place and at the right time and conveying the results to the farmers so that they can act accordingly. In its long 137 years of weather forecasting, the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) has been a total failure to forecast a drought or a flood which are like two extremes of the monsoon season.
But all this is about to change as the Government of India is implementing ‘The National Monsoon Mission’ which has already been approved by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs. The Mission with a budget of Rs 400 crores for five years (US$ 75 million) involves the responsibility of equipping the state weather departments with high end computers so more regional specific data can be collected along with the processing of the various geographical factors affecting rainfall. These computers will process all the parameters resulting in the generation of accurate forecast of rainfall in region specific small areas and timely relay of the forecast to the farmers. The Mission will be functioning on data received from various scientific research institutions and knitting them together in a consolidated and accurate rainfall forecast.
The monsoon season in India lasts from July to September approximately during which the country receives 80% of its total rainfall. It is evident that such a long stretch of monsoon will be punctuated by heavy rain, moderate rain as well as dry spells. This makes monsoon rainfall forecasts complex. As a result the whole forecasting system has been broken up into two subdivisions namely prediction of rainfall on an extended basis which can span from 16 days to one complete season and prediction of rainfall on a short or a medium term basis which will span a maximum of 15 days.
The functioning of the Mission is hinged upon the new concept of a “dynamical coupled ocean atmosphere model” instead of the traditional empirical model. National Centers for Environmental Predictions (NCEP), USA has provided the coupled model which has been undergoing further innovations to suit the Indian pattern of monsoon. The model is essentially a three dimensional “mathematical simulation of the atmosphere”, capable of predicting the various phases of the monsoon rain accurately. The finished Indian high resolution model (38 km X 38 km grid area) is expected to predict rainfall with geographical precision. UK is also proactive in extending their fullest cooperation to develop the model.
The entire project has a two pronged approach on two varied time scales conducive to the two divisions in which the entire forecasting has been divided into. The researches on extended /seasonal predictions of rainfall will be handled by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), Pune and Earth System Science Organization (ESSO) while the researches on the short/medium term predictions of rainfall will be handled by the National Center for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (NCMRWF), Noida and ESSO. Necessary oceanographic data will be provided by the Indian National Center for Ocean Information Services (INCOIS), Hyderabad. The responsibility vested on IMD and ESSO is to consolidate all these research results and their operational implementation. The entire Mission is headed by two committees namely the Scientific Review and Monitoring Committee (SRMC), (vested with the responsibility of monitoring and reviewing all the research work involved) and the Scientific Steering Committee (SSC), (vested with the responsibility of spearheading the Mission including capacities to implement corrections and rendering research related advices).
Part of the completed Mission is already operational and is receiving overwhelming responses from both our country and abroad. Signing of a MoU with the National Environment Research Council (NERC) proved to be beneficial for the Mission. The Ministry of Earth Sciences is considerably pleased with the success of the Mission. The recent collaborated workshop involving scientist from India and UK held in New Delhi also proved to be a huge success in the framing of future weather forecasting strategies.
The National Monsoon Mission will not only benefit the 235 million farmers of India by forecasting monsoon rainfall with geographical accuracy, but also prove useful to other sectors namely power generation, disaster management and transport. The completed Mission will be able to supply data on sea surface temperatures and atmosphere in general. Professor B N Goswami, Director, IITM, Pune, commented that the monsoon this year will be better than normal. As for me, a common urban man, I have very little uses for meteorological reports and weather forecasts. But the consistent hard rain for the past six days has definitely convinced me of the fact that the monsoon this year is better than the normal. The high resolution dynamical coupled ocean atmosphere model is really doing its job.