Is the Department of Meteorology in India operating effectively?

Its operations don't appear to have changed despite multiple accusations in the past.

Chennai experienced heavy rains on December 4 and 5. The ensuing flood severely damaged the city and claimed many lives. There was flooding in some areas for several days.

Following this, South Tamil Nadu has experienced the highest rainfall in 150 years. Kayalpatnam received 94 cm of rain in a single day. In the districts of Tirunelveli, Tenkasi, Kanyakumari, and Thoothukudi, heavy rains have lashed many places, roads have been washed away, houses have collapsed, and livestock have lost their lives.

The Tamil Nadu government has made a significant allegation in this case. In a post on his X website, Tamil Nadu Milk and Dairy Development Minister Mano Thangaraj accused the India Meteorological Department of giving inaccurate forecasts, delayed warnings, and inaccurate information on rainfall intensity.

In a similar vein, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin stated to the media on December 21 that the actual amount of rainfall exceeded the estimates provided by the Indian Meteorological Department by a large margin.

In this way, the state government consistently brings up charges against the Indian Meteorological Survey. At a press conference, Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman announced that the India Meteorological Department’s Chennai branch has warned that flooding is expected to occur on December 12. Let us first examine how the amount of rain is defined before turning our attention to its reality.

Rain Intensity:

The Indian Meteorological Department classifies rainfall according to its intensity. Rainfall is measured in millimeters. 10 millimeters is one centimeter. Accordingly, the amount of rainfall calculated is as follows:

  • 0.1 to 2.4mm – Very Light Rain
  • 2.5 to 15.5mm – Light Rain
  • 15.6 to 64.4mm – Moderate Rain
  • 64.5 to 115.5mm – Heavy Rain
  • 115.6 to 204.4mm – Very heavy rain
  • Above 204.4mm – Extreme Heavy Rain

Is Nirmala Sitharaman’s statement true?

According to a report released on December 12 by the India Meteorological Department’s Chennai Meteorological Centre, there will be light to heavy rainfall (6 cm to 11.5 cm) in South Tamil Nadu on 16th.

The same was said in the press releases on Dec 13 and 14. A press release issued on December 15th announced an ‘Orange Alert’ for very heavy rainfall (up to 20 cm) and the same warning was issued on the 16th of December.

The ‘Red Alert’ has been issued only on the 17th at 1 pm. Moreover, the severity of the rainfall is not properly specified. The heaviest rainfall was between 8:30 AM on the 17th and 8:30 AM on the 18th. The maximum rainfall in Kayalpattinam was 94.6 cm during the monsoon. The ‘Red Alert’ about the rain comes only on the afternoon of the 17th December.

All the announcements from the 12th indicated light to heavy rain at one or two places, and later announcements indicated very heavy rain (Orange Alert). It was the afternoon of the day (Dec. 17) when it rained the most and the announcement of very heavy rains was made on the same day.

The Union Finance Minister’s assertions are untrue. The India Meteorological Department failed to forecast rains so intense, reaching up to 60 cm in several locations.

Cheap Politics:

Even during the Chennai floods, work was done to hide the severity of the rains. A similar work appears to be in progress.

It is not the same thing to question the government’s rescue efforts and criticize them. However, it is a different matter to mislead by suggesting that a period of intense rain was an ordinary occurrence and that the damage could have been avoided. A mystical image is emerging, according to which the state government could have prevented floods from causing any damage, even in the event of 50–60 cm of rain falling in 24 hours, as was the case in South Tamil Nadu. Such heavy rains have the power to topple even industrialized nations.

Why do questions arise on IMD?

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) continues to be questioned because of its past. Accusations have been leveled against the IMD for predicting the rains in the past like the 2017 Oki Cyclone, the 2022 Asani Cyclone, 2021 & 2022 Delhi Rains, 2021-22 Chennai Rains. Due to malfunctioning radar equipment in major cities including Chennai and Mumbai, problems have also arisen in providing weather forecasts.

However, no remedial measures seem to have been taken. Many of us have sarcastically and jokingly said that if the weather report says it will rain, it will not rain and it will go wrong. The reality is that weather forecasting is not real and quick as expected. This is not a problem unique to Tamil Nadu. All of India has this problem. Bangalore is one of the most important cities in India today. But, it has no dedicated Doppler Weather Radar. It was announced almost 16 years ago but is yet to be implemented.

Currently, there are only 39 Doppler Weather Radars in India. There are over 150 Doppler Weather Radars in the US and over 200 in China. India’s inadequacy in this can be understood just by looking at the numbers. Concealing this is not only unnecessary but also fraudulent. Acknowledging this inadequacy will not cause any harm to the Union Government. However, it is reprehensible to hide this and use this calamity for political calculations. Also, being so stubborn about providing additional funding is very dangerous.


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Indu Meenakshi

Indu Meenakshi is a former Microbiologist-turned-journalist, works as a Sub-Editor at YouTurn. She additionally holds Master’s in Management and English Literature. As a fact-checker, her job entails actively dispelling false information found online, exposing fake news, and raising public awareness.
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