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Updated January 13th, 2024 at 16:43 IST

IMD Eyes on Use of Artificial Intelligence to Fine-Tune Weather Forecasts

As the department is celebrating 150th year of its establishment this year, it steps ahead into the new era of weather forecast models using AI.

Fog in Delhi
IMD eyes on use of artificial intelligence. | Image:PTI/ Representational
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New Delhi: The India Meteorological Department (IMD) is eyeing on the use of cutting edge artificial technology (AI) to fine-tune its weather forecast and predictions. As the department is celebrating 150th year of its establishment this year, it steps ahead into the new era of weather forecast models using AI.

The IMD, which sometimes struggles to predict small-level severe weather events, has set its focus on the next generation AI technology. This will improve and help in analysing the weather conditions, wind disturbances, formation of clouds and fogs, rainfall predictions with more accuracy.

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‘Panchayat Mausam Seva’ to be launched on January 15

The weather forecast establishment will kick start its 150th-anniversary celebrations on Monday. During the celebrations on Monday, ‘Panchayat Mausam Seva’ will be launched, which aims to take weather forecasts to every farmer in every village.

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This will also help in the National Framework for Climate Services to mainstream climate information in every sector and activity.

IMD Director General Mrutyunjay Mohapatra said that the weather office was setting up test beds in Odisha and Madhya Pradesh to better understand the physical processes leading to the formation of thunderstorms and heavy monsoon rains which could eventually help improve forecasts, reported news agency PTI.

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The IMD director stated, “From issuing cyclone warnings at the Kolkata port in the late 19th century to issuing nowcasts that reach the mobile phones of users, the IMD has come a long way and now plans to use the latest advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to improve its forecasting capabilities.”

"Being an old organisation, IMD has had weather data since 1901 which has been digitised. AI is data science where we can utilise all this historical data to develop tools and methods for forecasting," he said.

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Efforts to improve weather forecast accuracy

Mohapatra said the IMD has formed an expert group on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) and was also collaborating with NITs, IITs, IIITs, academic and R&D institutions for joint development of tools which can be used to improve forecast accuracy and sectoral applications.

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"Nowcast can be a very good area where AI-ML can contribute significantly to improve decision-making and weather forecasting. Similarly, in the short to medium range forecast, in the models itself AI-ML can work and improve weather forecasts by the models and hence finally by the forecasters," he said.

High-performance computing systems are being upgraded
Not only this, the weather forecast office is also upgrading its high-performance computing systems to improve its numerical modelling capability.

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The IMD director added, "The Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) is in the process of procuring high-performance computing systems. Our capacity will increase from 10 petaflops to 30 petaflops. With that, the numerical model runtime, resolution, and post-process data generation will improve."

The faster supercomputers will help the IMD generate more sector-specific and location-specific information. "At present, the IMD-MoES weather modelling system has a resolution of 12 kilometres. The target is to make it 6 kilometres. Similarly, the resolution of the regional modelling system will be improved from 3 kilometres to 1 kilometre," he said.

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Cloudburst phenomenon emerges as a challenge

Asked about the flak the weather office faced for inaccurate forecasts of heavy rainfall in southern Tamil Nadu in December, Mohapatra admitted that the forecasting system was not capable of predicting phenomena such as cloudbursts and small-level severe weather events.

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"I encourage criticism. There should be criticism so that we learn the lessons and improve our forecasting system. But, still, there are certain challenges such as the cloudburst phenomenon, rainfall of 60 cm-90 cm is in very exceptional cases. The system is not capable of predicting such types of weather systems at present," Mohapatra said.

He said India had its first weather observatory in 1793 in Chennai and the IMD was formally set up when Henry F Blanford took charge as the first Imperial Meteorological Reporter on January 15, 1875.

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"We have come up a long way. We have come up with a very extended observational system not only at the surface of the earth but also at the upper atmosphere, in remote areas like seas, hill areas and deserts. But, still, there are some misses like the cloudburst phenomenon, lighting and very small-level severe weather events," he said.

Forecasts have improved in recent years

"So, there is still scope to improve the observational system so that each and every weather gets detected. Once you detect it, this information is used in a computing platform in the numerical prediction models for prediction purposes. So, prediction will also improve accordingly," Mohapatra said.

He recalled that the two monstrous cyclones in the Bay of Bengal in 1864 that killed over 80,000 people and sank merchant ships of the then-British rulers and subsequent famines had led to the formation of the IMD.

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Mohapatra said early warnings and forecasts issued by the IMD over the years have improved and there was very little loss of human life due to cyclones and heavy rains.
 

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Published January 13th, 2024 at 16:43 IST

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