India’s forecasting of the monsoon – the crop-nourishing seasonal rains that are the lifeblood for farmers – is getting a high-tech makeover.
Jettisoning a statistical method introduced under British colonial rule in the 1920s, the Indian Meteorological Department is spending $60 million on a new supercomputer to improve the accuracy of one of the world’s most vital weather forecasts in time for next year’s rains.
The new system, based on a US model tweaked for India, requires immense computing power to generate three-dimensional models to help predict how the monsoon is likely to develop.
Experts say better forecasting could help India raise its farm output by nearly 15 percent, by helping farmers tweak the best time to sow, irrigate or apply fertilizer to crops and if rains fail plan state-wide measures. This would be a major boon for the world’s biggest or second-biggest producer and consumer of rice, wheat, sugar and cotton.
“If everything goes well, by 2017 we’ll make this dynamical model operational by replacing the statistical model,” said M. Rajeevan, the top scientist in the ministry of earth sciences, which oversees the weather office on a 30-acre campus in the heart of New Delhi.
The June-September rains are relied on to replenish reservoirs, recharge aquifers and for half of all farmland that does not have irrigation.
Many areas receive more than 70 percent of their annual rains during the monsoon and plentiful rains means more money in rural communities, sustaining some 600 million people and boosting demand for an array of goods and services.