“We started predicting Hudhud from the morning of 6 October, soon after we spotted a low pressure area at Tenasserim on the Myanmar coast,” says Mrutyunjay Mohapatra, chief cyclone forecaster at the India Meteorological Department (IMD).
Mohapatra tells SciDev.Net that IMD’s modernisation programme, initiated in 2007, has vastly improved data collection, modelling and human capacities. “We have been able to reduce the uncertainty in the prediction of the cyclone track by 20 to 30 per cent.”
According to Mohapatra, where IMD could predict cyclones only 72 hours before landfall in 2009 the organisation is now capable of making cyclone predictions five days in advance.
Since 2007 there has been a four-fold increase in the number of weather stations used in the land data collection system while a network of moored buoys acquire real-time data from the seas around India.
Data is also collected from the seas through 11 ships deployed by the Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services, Hyderabad, that is dedicated to providing ocean information and advisory services to scientists as well as ordinary people.
According to the ministry of earth sciences, the Indian Ocean Forecast System set up in March 2011 has improved the quality of its forecasts on such details as sea surface temperature, vertical temperature profiles, surface and subsurface currents, wave height and wave direction.
Data from ground stations, satellites, buoys and ships as well as those coming in from neighbouring countries are fed into models and cyclones simulated using a super computer. “This helps accurate prediction of a cyclone’s movement,” Mohapatra says.
Madhavan Rajeevan, head of the monsoon mission at the ministry of earth sciences, attributes better cyclone prediction to a leap in satellite data assimilation — from about five gigabytes to the current 45 gigabytes per day.
With greater frequency and accuracy of data, IMD is now capable of issuing predictions within three hours of the first sign of disturbance.
India’s new system was successfully tested in 2013 against Cyclone Phailin and efforts made to sustain it paid off with Hudhud. While Phailin killed 21 people, the number of deaths from Hudhud was limited to 24 through such steps as mass evacuations.
In comparison, poor preparedness for a super cyclone that devastated the Orissa coast in 1999 contributed to the high toll of at least 10,000 deaths.
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's South Asia desk.