It is unfortunate that despite weather forecasting becoming a reliable science, meterological agencies in the private and government sectors very often differ wildly on weather predictions. For example, within days of the privately-owned weather agency, Skymet, predicting a below normal monsoon this year, the India Meteorological Department, under the Ministry of Earth Sciences, has countered with its own near-normal forecast. Of course, this is not the first time that the two agencies, one in the public sector and the other in the private sector, have differed on predicting monsoon.

The private agencies forecasts 93 per cent rainfall of the long-period average whereas the IMD reckons it will be 96 per cent, thus making it near-normal. Since a lot of economic activity and sentiment rides on monsoon predictions, and given the dependence of more than half of the population on agriculture, weather predictions assume a key role in ordinary peoples’ lives.

The private agency is said to have assigned bigger role to the El Nino effect which deters a good monsoon. It believes it would have adverse effect on the south-west monsoon. On the other hand, the IMD reasons that the El Nino effect would weaken early in the usual monsoon season which lasts from June to September.

Other foreign-owned weather forecasting agencies in the private sector are closer to the Skymet prediction than the IMD’s. But, regardless whether it is 93 per cent or 96 per cent of the long-period average, it is certain that it would not be a drought year this monsoon season. India can cope with even 93 per cent of the long-period average.

Without doubt, over the years the IMD too has acquired the latest tools to make near-accurate forecasts. Its acquisition of the latest satellites and the expansion of data-gathering networks and better collation and analysis of data has helped to repair its reputation.

Time was not long ago when Pakistan had access to superior weather forecasting satellites than we had in India. However, given the size of the country and the vast differences in topology predicting weather events correctly requires deep domain knowledge and experience. It also helps that the real time dissemination of the IMD forecasts forewarns all the stake-holders in the agricultural sector to prepare accordingly.

For the farm sector a good monsoon can also mean when it rains rather than how much it rains, and when it doesn’t. Spacing of rains is key to a good harvest. Very often intensive spells of rains can hurt rather than help farmers. Predicting all these has now become easy for the IMD following its acquisition of the latest technologies. It should try and hone its skills further to keep in step with the best of weather forecasters whether in the foreign private or public sector.

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