Saturday, December 17, 2005
Central Park, New York: We Knew This Was Gonna Happen
It was roughly -7 degrees C (low) in New York yesterday. Today, its likely to be closer to -1 C. It snowed and rained, in that order, last evening. The snow flurries began coming down roughly 5 pm or so, at least where I was driving across the Hudson river near New Jersey.
Today's been bright and sunny all day and temperatures went upto 7 degrees C. Actually its the first such day in weeks, after it snowed heavily on the morning of the 9th of December. The temperatures, dates and times have been noted down from weather reports which you can access anywhere in the world, including for hours on local television stations. The only difference is that each of these weather events were predicted and forecasted, down to the minute almost, anywhere between a day to a week before it happened. Its a degree of accuracy that's almost scary.
So the taxi driver out of JFK (I landed on an internal flight) told me not to venture out the next morning because it would snow at 5 am. He asked whether I would be suitably clothed for the ocassion if I did venture out at that time. "Hardly," I said. "Be advised that there will be heavy snowfall," he said. Of course, I was well advised and well prepared, like millions of other Americans on the north-east coast.
More Rights Than Wrongs
It was no different yesterday. A proposal to `steak out' was nixed in the morning because of the impending snow, sleet and rains in the evening. It was pretty clear by afternoon that this would be an evening of rest and recreation. Accordingly, the neighbouring video library (which stocks a shockingly large number of VHS tapes) was visited and two films including one by Oliver Stone called U Turn procured.
Of course, the weather forecasters don't get it right always, as my friends in America like to point out. The fact is that they got it right on two critical ocassions in the last ten days. For me, that's a better average than anyone can ask for. I always thought weather forecasting was a hit n miss game and everyone was okay with that. Since its the weather you can't or at least didn't expect to be dead on.
But that's not the case. The quality of forecasting at least as experienced by a visitor and non-resident like me is staggering. And for someone who still thinks Bombay could have been saved much of the suffering it endured on July 26, were the forecasts right, its a pity where the rest of the world has reached in this department. Particularly since most of India experiences secular weather patterns which only change three or four times a year.
Good Forecasts Save Lives
Predicting when it will rain and how much is critical not just to office goers in Bombay but people living along flood-prone rivers in eastern India and farmers who want to save their crops elsewhere. I caught Kapil Sibal saying recently the Indian weather prediction system would be overhauled to global standards. Over a Rs 1,000 crore is spent on it, he said.
Clearly, prevention costs less money. That does not mean you trigger so many false alarms that people stop believing it. In which case, we need to spend money first on getting a world class weather forecasting system in place, with the ability to collect and mine data of all sorts (including fog at Delhi airport). Effectively earmarked and budgeted, it will mean a fraction of next year's flood relief which need not be spent (at least in that magnitude). If nothing else, we might save a few more lives.
For more insights, visit my NY page on www.weather.com The software is undoubtedly cool but its the back end with all the real-time data assimilation and mining that makes it fascinating. I hope Kapil Sibal earmarks this and makes it his benchmark.