Phallin (2013), Hudhud (2014), Vardah (2016) – all high-intensity cyclones – left a trail of destruction along India’s East coast. But what was the difference this time? Even though there was massive destruction of properties and disruption in daily routine, the Indian government managed to save hundreds of thousands of lives. All thanks to the advanced warnings by the India Meteorological Department (IMD) and timely evacuations.
In 1999 the killer cyclone in Odisha had taken about 10,000 lives but Phallin, which almost had the same intensity as the super cyclone in 1999, took less than 10 lives in 2013. Similarly, timely forecast of heavy rainfall in advance made a huge difference during the recent Chennai flood. The Indian state of Tamil Nadu was well equipped to handle the situation and made appropriate arrangements to tackle the situation swiftly. The IMD was able to forecast Vardah three-and-a-half-days before the cyclone struck. The Met department can now forecast heavy rainfall up to three days in advance.
Mastering prediction accurately
In the recent past, the country has made great strides in the disaster alert systems – be it cyclone alerts, regional tsunami warnings or heavy rainfall/flood alert system.
Improvements in augmenting observation networks modeling like data simulation, introduction of high-performance computers and training of scientists, especially sending them to the US and UK for advanced studies, have immensely helped the IMD to predict forthcoming events. Technologies like Doppler radar network are used to forecast heavy rainfall, lightning and thunderstorms. “Last year we introduced heatwave forecast. About 2,500 people had died due to the heatwave in the month of April, May, June and July in 2016. This will help both people and the government to be prepared and make appropriate arrangements to combat this situation,” Dr M Rajeevan, Secretary, Ministry of Earth Sciences, said at a PIB press briefing on the occasion of celebrating NDA government’s three years completion.
Due to timely predictions, even the hospitals are prepared to handle the situation efficiently. Apart from this, four Indian states Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Odisha have initiated state action plan. As soon as they get the warning, they can act immediately. More states are being encouraged to develop such action plans so that during any disaster, the state government can act immediately. Bihar is slated to come up with an initiative soon, said Dr Rajeevan, adding, “The loss of lives during the last three years due to tropical cyclones has reduced to less than hundred as compared to the thousands during the previous decade.”
Besides this, the Indian Tsunami Early Warning Centre, based in Hyderabad and commissioned after the killer Tsunami in 2004, has been successful in delivering accurate alerts, most importantly avoiding false alerts. India is also providing Tsunami warning services to other countries in the South Asia region. The country is also launching the services in South East region and later plans to cover the South China Sea also.
Launching new programs
The Ministry of Earth Sciences is introducing new programs to further boost the forecast services. They are:
- Multi-hazard warning system for flash floods, heavy rainfall, lightning and thunder storm
- Atmospheric consistency program for air pollution.
- Urban metrology
Future of India – Oceanic Services
Another department where the Indian Earth Sciences Ministry has made great advancements is the Oceanic Services. These services not only contribute in providing accurate warnings but also help in boosting the economy. The Marine Fishery Advisory Services both East and West coast is one such example.
In this service Potential Fishery Zones (PFZ) are located based on satellite data and chlorophyll to find abundant fish. Currently, the service is available to 2.5 lakh fishermen as compared to 1.05 lakh in 2014. It has led to an annual saving of around Rs 3,000 crore ($450.94 million) of fishermen as per the NCAER report.
Moreover, Ocean State Forecasts (OSF) and warnings based on advanced ocean models have been able to capture wave forecast, storm surge warnings, surface currents, ocean temperatures. At present, there are about 16.5 lakh users as compared to 7.5 lakh in 2014. Indian Navy and Coast Guard use this technology widely.
As per NCEAR report, the cumulative economic benefits exceeding Rs 3,70,000 crore ($55,616.09 million) have been accrued from OSF. The Earth Sciences Ministry has come up with two more new initiatives under the ocean services
Prediction of Oil Spill Trajectory: This service has been introduced last year and has recently helped immensely to detect the damage caused by Chennai chemical oil spill.
Tools for search and rescue operations: The service is of great help, especially for Indian Coast Guard.
Nature’s fury can cause havoc on many lives. India has grown leaps and bounds in the forecast sector. Whether it is the IMD or ISRO’s new updated version of disaster management portal, the Indian government can now be more vigilant and prepared for unforeseen events. The future looks bright with the IMD planning to introduce more GIS-based products that will boost the forecast capabilities further.