The forecast man

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The head of the Srinagar Met Office, Sonam Lotus talks about working of the department in an interview with Aliya Bashir. Excerpts.

Kashmir Life : Weather forecasting is a scientific exercise, which needs high end infrastructure support and modern gadgets, where does J&K state stand in terms of infrastructure and qualified manpower?
Sonam Lotus:  Of course it is! And it does require latest communication technology like IT facilities and skilled manpower. Compared to most of other states, we have sufficient meteorological infrastructures and trained manpower, which you can see from the type of predictions that we make.  

KL. How do you forecast rains or snow or sunny days?
SL: Weather forecast involves components like observation of the state of sky, temperature, pressure, wind, cloud movements, various model products, satellite images etc. Analysis of above parameters, skill and knowledge of the forecasters and finally the forecast whether rain, snow or sunny.

KL: Reports of glaciers receding, water discharge dwindling in rivers and streams, frequently appears in the media, are we seeing any distinct change in weather pattern in Kashmir?
SL: I’m not a glaciologist, so I don’t agree blindly whatever comes in media. However, I do see that snowline has decreased appreciably. Yes, we do observe a change in weather pattern over Kashmir which includes shorter winter, increasing trend in temperature and a slight decreasing trend in precipitation – rain, snow.

KL. Has the MET department done any research on how Kashmir will be affected by the global climate change? Are you suggesting any measures say changes in agricultural practices or water harvesting to adapt to the change?
SL:  Some of the research done by scientists of Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) shows an increasing trend in temperature and a slight decreasing trend in precipitation in valley. My suggestions are that state government must create mass awareness among farmers to grow crops which are appropriate to a changing climate. Take advantages of (rope in) agricultural scientists, they are the experts, not me. Water is a precious resource and one shouldn’t pollute it. There should also be judicious use of water and its harvesting.

KL: Scientist in Japan had predicted the quake some 40 odd seconds in advance. Can you predict natural calamities like quakes, cloudbursts, typhoons…?
SL: As of date nowhere in the world there exist instruments or technology that can predict earthquake. But, yes, cloudburst and typhoons can be forecasted. However, to make location specific (forecasts) is very difficult, reason being that these are highly localized phenomena and develops and dissipates in two to three hours.

KL: The devastating quake in Japan has been widely discussed throughout the world and in Kashmir. How do you calculate the epicenter of the quake and what is the Richter scale?
SL: Our job is to observe the quake in our region on seismograph and then we feed our Delhi-based headquarter where actually the whole process takes place.

Geologists use seismic wave charts to determine the earthquake epicenter. The epicenter is the point on the surface of the earth vertically above the place of origin of an earthquake and is expressed by its geographical coordinates (latitudes and longitudes). This is where the actual shaking is concentrated and most of the damage is done.

Richter scale is the logarithm of maximum aptitude measured in microns on a seismograph.

KL: What is the present status of meteorological department in Kashmir? When was it set up?
SL: We have a modern Met office equipped with almost all basic infrastructures. Our department was setup in 1973 and is essentially a service and scientific department.  Much has been done but more needs to be done. IMD has already approved Automatic Weather Station (AWS) for each district (22 in all), a Doppler Weather Radar for Srinagar under phase-1 of modernization of IMD. I am sure we will install more equipment in times to come.  

KL: Do you have any equipment to predict typhoon, avalanche, flash floods or quakes? Please elaborate?
SL: For accurate weather forecast we have in our office latest technologies mostly from Meteo France, round the clock satellite images and 24*7 observational facilities particularly of Jammu and Srinagar.

KL: What are the other functions of the Met department besides forecasting rain or snow, avalanche or floods?
SL: Our services include to forecast for farmers ( agro met advisories), National Highway, amaranth Yatra, event management like party, weddings and almost everything related to weather and climate. Besides this, we have MET data of over 70 years of some districts of J&K. You can see yourself.  For any inquiry related to weather, anyone can call us on 0194-2430112, or e-mail us at mc srinagar@rediffmail.com

KL: Is Kashmir heading towards a major high Richter scale quake as some experts claim?
SL: The whole J&K state falls under zone -4 (Moderate danger risk zone), Srinagar, Baramulla, under zone-5 (Very high danger zone). So we are very much vulnerable to a high risk quake. It can strike any time. We can’t stop a disaster, but definitely we can minimize the risk through more awareness. Here media plays a big role.

KL: Tell us about yourself?
SL: I had my schoolings in Leh, graduated in science from GGM Science College Jammu, M.Sc and M.Phil-Physics from Jammu University. Got into IMD through UPSC and today I am serving the people of J&K.

KL: What are your demands before the government?
SL: My request to state government is that please provide us round the clock electric facility to provide better services to users. As most of our equipments are related to IT, communications and have direct link with satellite.

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A journalist with seven years of working experience in Kashmir.

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