In India, government funded enterprises are thought to be inefficient, lagging behind in the use of technologies, lethargic and inaccurate. As against this, private sector enterprises are perceived to be exactly the opposite. India Meteorological Department (IMD), the weather office of India, was also largely perceived to be inaccurate in its weather and rain forecasts, and the only private weather forecaster, Skymet, was considered to be more accurate.
Before the onset of monsoon, IMD forecast this year’s rainfall at 88 per cent, below normal by 12 per cent. And Skymet said this year rainfall will be 102 per cent, 2 per cent above long-term average (LTA) – the benchmark for rainfall measurement.
Nearly three months of monsoon are over and rainfall this season so far is 12 per cent deficit, proving IMD right. The month of September, both the forecasters agree, is not likely to make much difference.
Why was there a difference between the forecasts? Both use the same technologies, but its interpretations are different. According to Skymet, IMD has over-stressed the El Nino factor. While Skymet takes into account the El Nino factor, it believes a positive ‘Indian Ocean Dipole’ (IOD) can help India get normal rainfall.
Indian Ocean Dipole is a temperature difference between the west and east of the Indian Ocean. If the difference is less than 0.5 degree Celsius, it’s considered neutral, but, if it’s 0.5 or more, it’s positive, implying a normal monsoon.
According to Skymet, a positive IOD creates a barrier in the eastern Indian Ocean and the entire southwesterly winds blow towards the Indian subcontinent, causing rains there but leading to droughts in parts of Indonesia and Australia.
As the monsoon season began in June, it was raining in most parts of the country. And at the end of June, it was felt that IMD was inaccurate. Rainfall in June was 16 per cent above normal. But, at the end of July,
a largely dry month in most parts of the country, rainfall deficit concerns were looking large. July ended with 15 per cent rainfall deficit, less than Skymet’s forecast of 4 per cent above normal. Until then, it was a normal monsoon at 96 per cent of the LTA, according to Skymet. When rainfall is less than 90 per cent of the long-term average, it’s considered to be deficient. And when it is between 96-104 per cent, it’s considered, normal. The final data for August is not available, but, both the forecasters expected it to be 90 per cent of the LTA.
IMD on target The forecast for the final phase of the monsoon is available. As the monsoon season is in its final phase, the forecast of deficient rainfall made by IMD has come true and the deficit is exactly as predicted -12 per cent. Skymet doesn’t expect the rainfall to increase in September. “The country-wide cumulative rainfall [deficit] figure now stands at 12 per cent,” Skymet said in a statement. “The daily average rainfall figure will start taking a dip after a couple of days. Thus, we can expect that this [the average rainfall] figure will not rise much.”
Skymet has accurately forecast weather for the last three years, but, this year, IMD has been on target. But, as is well known, there are variations. The 12 per cent is not uniform, it varies very widely regionally. The southern peninsula and central India have been the worst hit, with rainfall 20 per cent and 15 per cent below
normal, respectively. Nortwest India, east and northeast India received 6 per cent less. Of the 36 subdivisions in the country, only three – West Rajasthan, West Madhya Pradesh and Gangetic West Bengal have received surplus rainfall, and 15 have received normal rainfall. Half the subdivisions received deficient rainfall, the IMD says. As much as 50 per cent of the country has received normal rainfall. Many subdivisions like Marathwada, Konkan and Goa and central Maharashtra witnessed 50, 38 and 32 per cent deficiencies in rainfall. Coastal and south interior Karnataka, Telan- gana and Kerala witnessed deficiencies of 44, 28, 25 and 31 per cent, respectively.
It was a bold decision to start a weather forecasting business and compete with the government funded IMD. Jatin Singh, now CEO, started Skymet in 2003. While it started with weather forecasting, it has moved away from it. Singh doesn’t think Skymet is competing with IMD, but, complementing it. Skymet makes money from weather forecasting, crop data collection, crop collection among others. Its revenue is reported to be ?30 crore. It has raised $5.5 million in two rounds so far. In 2011, it raised $1 million from Omnivore Capital and last year, it raised $4.5 million from a consortium of investors. Singh says there should be more competition. With competition, the quality of weather forecast will go up.
♦ ROHIT PANCHAL [email protected]