New Delhi: In this time of rapid and unexpected climate change, you do need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, especially if the monsoon is at stake. The fate of India’s agriculture sector is closely tied to the monsoon, and the amount of rain it brings.
A.A. Munot and K. Krishna Kumar, both scientists at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, claim to have come up with a model to predict the monsoon, that, when retrospectively applied over the past 10 years, gets it right nine times out of 10. That means that nine out of their 10 calculations on the extent of rainfall, matched the actual number. The two scientists have written about their model in a recent issue of Journal of Earth System Science.
The current model being used by the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) did get the number for the monsoon right in 2006, but it failed to predict 2002’s drought. The statistics-heavy model of Munot and Kumar got both right.
Kumar said the model was still a work in progress and added that although it was conceived in 2002 and has been tested since, it needs more work before it can become “a dependable source to predict the monsoon.”
Forecasting the monsoon is a sensitive issue in India, where the livelihood of 60% of the population depends on agriculture. IMD currently uses an eight-parameter model launched in 2003, one of the many models it is currently testing. Kumar’s model uses only six parameters, including sea level pressure, temperature, and wind speed.
“The number of parameters is not the criteria,” explained Kumar. “It’s about determining the right parameters. Too many parametres can destroy the accuracy of the prediction,” he added.
Kumar’s reluctance to term his model ready for use is understandable: the warming of the Indian Ocean, and other such climate changes have introduced a certain degree of uncertainty in tested models used to predict rainfall or other weather patterns.
IMD, for instance, had long relied on a comfortable 16-parameter model, which was reasonably accurate. Then came the 2002 drought, which completely wrecked the department’s predictions. Since then, the department has embarked on the search for new models.
IMD is aware of Kumar and Munot’s model. “New models are always studied,” said an IMD meteorologist, “and this one seems to have merit. But whether we will actually use it is still being debated.”