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Why Kerala Opted for Private Weather Forecasting Agencies?

Chander Mohan
Chander Mohan

For the very first time, a State government would fund private weather agencies for providing alerts & warnings about extreme climate events. Usually, weather alerts have been the domain of the India Meteorological Department.

An order by the Kerala government's Disaster Management Department issued on June 19 authorizes the release of Rs. 95 lac to 3 private companies — Skymet Private Ltd, IBM Weather Company and Earth Networks to use “ensemble predictions to improve extreme weather alert services in the State.” 

Jatin Singh, CEO, Skymet said his company had already made an app, called Kerala Rain, that issued 15-day forecasts and “real time monitoring” for 100 weather stations. “It gives location specific notice about possible floods in a region,” said Shri Singh. 

The devastating floods of 2019 in Kerala have heightened concerns about the state of extreme-weather preparedness in Kerala. The order states that these services solicited would be part of a 1year pilot project. 

The Kerala Government’s decision builds on an earlier order from April 30 where it said it was dissatisfied with the IMD. The Kerala State Disaster Management Authority (KSDMA) had reviewed the State's preparedness in terms of weather prediction and the IMD's preparedness. The IMD, that order reads, had promised to ready 15 Automatic Weather Stations (AWS) before the monsoon. “Unfortunately, no new AWS has come up and the near time data streaming is minimal to nil,” the letter rues. 

“With such an unreliable network the State will not be able to localize alerts. None of the major requirements of the State have been met and this impedes disaster management capabilities of the State,” it adds. 

AWS measure windspeed, humidity, rainfall & relays the data to centralized systems that are used to provide weather forecasts. The IMD’s inability to give services were the reason to solicit the services of “reputed” private weather companies, the letter adds. 

According to sources,  IMD was unable to comply to the Kerala government’s requirement due to disagreements over the location of the AWS. After cyclone Ockhi of 2017 claimed the lives of several fishermen in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, the IMD as part of sprucing up the State's weather warning capabilities committed to installing 100 AWS. However, these could only be installed as per a pre-defined IMD protocol. 

“They wanted us to install them in certain places and we couldn't do that. Moreover, there are three Doppler Weather Radars and already a strong forecast mechanism in the State,” the official with the IMD said. 

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