Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Predicting rain in the past and present.

I am writing this article in the context of recent rain forecasts mostly going wrong. In mid May, it was announced by the weather authorities and news channels that the South West Monsoon would be reaching Kerala early this year. The news was that Monsoon would reach Kerala by end May and Telangana within a week from then. Two weeks of June are past and it has rained just 9 mm this rainy season at Hyderabad and that too mostly in the outskirts. It is not just this rainy season but even in the last few years the forecasts have been mostly awry, the opposite of the forecasts!
I know that long term forecasts are complicated but with all the scientific data from innumerable sources like satellites and weather stations it makes me wonder why the probability of forecasts being correct is so low. Even the next day and the current day forecasts go wrong. When a depression forms over Bay of Bengal Ocean, rain and rough weather is predicted very emphatically over certain areas, for few days. Then a running commentary commences on the path of depression and when and at which place it would cross the coast. Whatever the predictions the course of the depression is mostly different from the expectations and it would either weaken or pass on to touch a different State or Country hundreds of kilometers away from the first forecast area. As a novice it is not right for me to blame anyone for such forecasts. I have to accept that weather forecasting is a complicated field and total perfection may never be possible. But what I hope is that in the near future the percentage of correct weather forecasts would increase.
During my school and college days, I used to interact with Laxminarsaiah, an elderly night watchman of our house. He was illiterate, he could not read or write Telugu but he had lot of practical knowledge that would make him a wise man in his village. He knew folklore and epics, Telugu months, days, forthcoming festivals and auspicious days and time. He knew how to reach his home at night by looking at the stars, the names of which he knew. He knew of agriculture, cultivation and crops, and coming to our subject he knew very well about weather and climate. In his earlier days and at the time of our interaction, the seasons were very much in order. The seasons appeared like clockwork and were pretty the same every year with minor variations. He was able to forecast an ensuing heat wave, a cool evening breeze in midsummer and of the commencement of rainy season and of rains in advance. Regarding rainy season and rain forecasting he told me that the indicators were building of nests by weaver birds, singing of cuckoo birds, movement of ants and termites in rows, movement of dragon flies, red clouds during sunrise and sunset, sky with tiny clouds in fish scale formation, flocking of sheep, flapping of ears by goats, halo around sun and moon, low clouds, dark clouds, lightning and of course the smell of distant rain in the breeze. His predictions were mostly correct.
Modern scientific methods I am sure are superior to the olden methods of forecasting mastered by our watchman. If we can bring into control the world’s climatic changes, the disharmony in the appearance and intensity of seasons it would be easier for our weathermen to forecast precisely. And if necessary by combining the knowledge of ancient forecasting!

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