Predicting Right!

Officials are upbeat that after installation of Japan’s hi-tech X-Band Doppler Weather Radar system in Kashmir calamities can be predicted in time to minimize damages. Saima Bhat reports           

METBefore September 7, 2014 floods that devastated Kashmir, the Supreme Court of India had directed Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) to install hi-tech weather forecasting system in Kashmir.

The motive was to keep track of cloud movement accurately so that tourists visiting Kashmir could be informed well beforehand of any eventuality. But the process of procuring and installing the new X-Band Doppler Weather Radar (DWR) system by Toshiba, Japan took time. “It could not happen on time or else we could have exactly predicted the amount of water clouds carried during recent floods,” says Sonam Lotus, regional head of IMD in Srinagar.

With the help of X-Band DWR, the metrological department can inform well in time about the threatening weather conditions so that authorities can issue warnings and order life-saving evacuations. This X-band radar is first of its kind in Jammu and Kashmir. Earlier such radars have been used by the Japan’s Defense agency.

As per the official website of IMD, fifteen other radars are functional presently in different states of India, including ISRO Hyderabad. Radars are used in IMD for detection of various weather conditions like thunderstorms, hailstorm and tracking of cyclonic storms. They are also used in rainfall estimation and hail warning.

“Kashmir is a tourist destination and at the same time vulnerable to natural calamities like snow avalanches, floods, cloudburst, landslides, wind in Lakes. So this X-band DWR system is going to be helpful as it can forecast weather accurately two hours ahead and at exact location,” says Lotus. “DWR should have been installed some 10 years back but it is never too late,”

Lotus says the new forecasting system is better than earlier ones as the predictability will be more accurate, 90 percent correct for short term forecasts, 6-hourly regional forecast (now cast starting from 00 to 06 hours).

Earlier regional metrological department was only able to predict the rainfall but they were not able to say the quantity of water in clouds, and the prediction was more generalized.

“We cannot tell you 24 hours ahead about the forecast, but with the help of DWR we will be able forecast 2 to 3 hours ahead now,” says Lotus.

Till now regional IMD was using weather ball sensors for reading the erratic profile of air for its temperature, velocity and density. These sensor balls are imported from China and each day it costs them maximum Rs 5,000.

“For two years we used sensor balls from France but they were costly so we shifted back to Chinese balls,” informs Lotus.

For weekly forecast (medium range forecast) and long range forecast (monsoon or monthly) the department has bigger equipments located at the weather forecasting stations in Delhi, Hyderabad and rest of India where forecasting is done with Numerical Weather Prediction (NWP) equations. “You never know at what time a cloud will change its direction and it happens mostly during spring and summer season (April, May, and June) when temperature is volatile, otherwise in winters the temperature mostly remains stable (low temperature). That is why the forecast keeps on changing, be it online weather websites or mobile applications.”

In Japan this DWR has been used for last 30 to 40 years by its Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, and by universities and research institutions. And rest of the radars, are used for aviation, defense, planes and space craft’s.

DWR system has a range of 100 kms, and its short wavelength supports high resolution imaging of precipitation and wind velocity. And incase its signal hits any obstacle, it comes back. It is only 25 per cent of the size and consumes only 10 per cent of the power of equivalent electron-tube-based radar.

It will work in harsh weather conditions, between minus 20 degree Celsius temperature to plus 55 degree Celsius, says G. Nagaraju, engineer with Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL), prime contractor of Toshiba in setting the DWR system in Srinagar.

The antenna systems – 8.5m S band antenna and 4.2m C band – will form part of weather monitoring radars and will be integrated with the transmitter, receiver and radar processor provided by Toshiba. It cost them approximately 3.8 crores, says Nagaraju.

Lotus along with his 50 staff members at regional IMD’s center, says the new system will be highly beneficial during spring and summer season when the weather changes frequently. “It will help us during Amarnath Yatra. We will be in a better position to inform them if they should continue with their yatra or not to minimize the human loss.”

Earlier in 2012 the regional MeT installed some portable advanced weather forecasting system in Pahalgam to help yatris. “But some people took away our batteries and we couldn’t continue with or plans,” says Lotus.

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