Bringing science and development together through news and analysis

Mobile phone app warns against cyclones
  • Mobile phone app warns against cyclones

Copyright: Flickr/World Bank

Speed read

  • Indian students develop mobile phone application that warns against cyclones

  • Easy-to-use app proved itself during Cyclone Phailin in October

  • Instant text and multimedia warnings can also be sent to cell phone users

Shares
[THIRUVANANTHAPURAM] A group of computer science undergraduates have come up with an easy-to-use mobile phone application that can forecast the weather and track cyclones.  
 
The weather 'applet’— a small programme designed to run within a bigger application — was developed by a team from the Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT) in southern India and the University of Leeds, UK.
 
The automated system made accurate forecasts on Cyclone Phailin brewing in the Bay of Bengal and heading towards India's east coast last October. The forecasts were available to “fishermen and farmers, ordinary citizens and tourists,” the team reported in Atmospheric Science Letters published last month (December).
 
Phailin, classified by the India Meteorological Department as a category 5 or 'very severe’ cyclonic storm claimed 23 lives in India, and affected 12 million people in India, Myanmar, Nepal and Thailand.
 
The relatively small death toll in India is attributed to the successful mass evacuation of 800,000 people in less than 48 hours.
 
“The easy-to-use Weather Research Forecasting (WRF) model remains confined to an elite group of users, such as atmospheric scientists and weather forecasters,” Satyajit Ghosh, senior professor, school of mechanical and building sciences at VIT, said in a press release.
 
“Our research explores how the WRF forecast can be interfaced with mobile telephony which has deep penetration even in the rural pockets of India,” Ghosh tells SciDev.Net
 
Most Indians get their weather forecasts over television or radio, which are typically broadcast a day in advance. With the mobile app, forecasts can reach India’s cell phone subscribers, whose numbers are estimated to swell from the present 930 million to 1.15 billion by the end of 2014, the authors say.
 
The forecast app can also be made available offline, using text and multimedia messaging that involves images and local Indian languages.
 
Saurabh Dani, senior disaster risk management specialist with the World Bank in India, says that the app addresses the first stage of disaster warning — broadcasting. The second stage requires an advisory on whether local people should stay put, or leave, he tells SciDev.Net
 
However, Dani cautions that the system does not replace an official alert system. “You don’t want someone randomly sending forecasts.”
 
Dani also warns against a disaster alert system that depends solely on cell phones. “Mobile telephone towers usually cannot withstand wind speeds that are more than 200 kilometres per hour,” he observes.
 
Link to abstract in Atmospheric Science Letters
Republish
We encourage you to republish this article online and in print, it’s free under our creative commons attribution license, but please follow some simple guidelines:
  1. You have to credit our authors.
  2. You have to credit SciDev.Net — where possible include our logo with a link back to the original article.
  3. You can simply run the first few lines of the article and then add: “Read the full article on SciDev.Net” containing a link back to the original article.
  4. If you want to also take images published in this story you will need to confirm with the original source if you're licensed to use them.
  5. The easiest way to get the article on your site is to embed the code below.
For more information view our media page and republishing guidelines.