The Above Normal Indian Monsoon of 2019


“A tree is known by its fruits”, Jesus has said two thousand years ago, “Only a good tree will bear good fruits.” This is true even today, and it applies to the Indian monsoon as well. When the monsoon is good, life’s good. There is romance in the air. Ordinary folks are inspired to write poetry and to sing in the rain. Children dance and play on the streets. Tall crops sway to the rhythm of the wind. Farmers have a smile on their face. People in the metros go on with their routines. The reservoirs overflow. The country’s granaries are full. When a monsoon is normal, the economy prospers. The common man’s idea of a normal monsoon is an emotional one.

The meteorologist’s definition of a normal monsoon is, on the other hand, a completely physical one. It is based on numbers and percentages. It is not even a permanent definition, and has undergone revisions from time to time. Meteorologists define the monsoon and prescribe its boundaries as per their own thinking. Then, they expect the monsoon to behave accordingly and fit into those boundaries. As if the monsoon is a puppet on their strings, which it is not. So, more often than not, long range predictions of the monsoon have gone wrong, and this year’s deviation was a glaring one.

While everyone is talking about climate change, and its effects are already becoming noticeable, it is reassuring to see that the monsoon’s basic structure and processes are safe and have not changed. At the same time, it is becoming increasingly clear that every monsoon is in some sense a little different from the others. One monsoon may come like a thief, another may arrive with full pageantry. One monsoon may be sluggish to start with, another may be in a great hurry to cover the entire country at the earliest. One may be eager to return, another may be in no mood to do so. The 2019 monsoon turned out to be different in so many ways.

Long Range Prediction

In the months of April and May, when the country is usually reeling under severe heat waves, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) traditionally releases its long range forecasts of the monsoon in two instalments. The entire nation waits for them with great expectations, and the words “the monsoon is likely to be normal” come like a cool breeze sweeping across the scorched peninsula. This year’s first forecast was issued on 19 April and the figure was 96 per cent, described as near-normal monsoon. The second forecast released on 31 May, which was an update based upon the latest atmospheric and oceanic conditions, had the same figure, 96 per cent, but the difference was that it was now labelled as a normal monsoon. 

The actual arrival of the southwest monsoon over Kerala is a kind of mega-event. The whole country, and particularly its farmer population, wants confirmation that the monsoon has indeed arrived, so that further actions can be initiated. In 2019, this event was forecast to be delayed by a week, which in fact happened. However, the very next day, on 9 June, a severe cyclonic storm developed over the Arabian Sea, throwing the monsoon’s time table completely out of gear. The monsoon which normally comes to Maharashtra around 10 June, crept in sluggishly and timidly, only by the end of June. Throughout the months of June and July, there were no signs of a normal monsoon.

Badly Distributed Rainfall

The 2019 monsoon had an extremely bad rainfall distribution though its four-month journey, related of course to its wrong time table. The rainfall deficiency for the month of June was as bad as 39 per cent. It was only in the last week of July that things seemed to take a turn for the better. Normal life was severely affected in the metro cities time and again. Hundreds of lives were lost during spells of intense rains in different parts of the country. Even after 30 September, the date on which the monsoon rainfall account is officially closed, the monsoon was yet to commence its return from Rajasthan and the state of Bihar was submerged under flood waters.

In Maharashtra, there was an unprecedented flood situation in early August in the districts of Kolhapur and Sangli, where lakhs of people had to be evacuated to safer places. At the same time, several districts of Marathwada went without any rain week after week. When Maharashtra farmers wanted to sow their seeds, there was no rain. Those who attempted to do the sowing saw their seedlings wither away in the sunny days later. And even those crops that somehow survived were washed away in the September deluge. On the night of 25 September, in Pune, 20 people lost their lives as thunderstorms lashed the city.

This year’s monsoon was said to have broken several records. It was the first monsoon in 25 years, after 1994, to have received 110 per cent rainfall. Mumbai, Thane, and Pune districts, received the highest rainfall in August in the last hundred years. The withdrawal of the monsoon which begins normally in early September from extreme Rajasthan has been delayed by five weeks, the longest delay in 59 years.    

For sure, this was not the normal monsoon that people had expected in the light of the long range forecast.

Lessons from the 2019 Monsoon

The most important lesson that the 2019 monsoon has taught us is that while we remain obsessed by the fear of an impending drought, we should not neglect the possibility of excess rainfall. Much of the rain-related damage and the loss of life, cannot be blamed directly on the rain alone. The blame goes more to unsafe buildings, unauthorised constructions, poor quality of roads, and inadequate drainage. These need immediate and careful attention.    

More than anything else, this year’s monsoon has made us realise once again that it is nobody’s slave. The remote control of the Indian monsoon does not lie in the hands of a phenomenon called El Nino, which appears at irregular intervals far away over the Pacific Ocean, while the monsoon visits India every year never failing. The Indian monsoon is perhaps a mystery, and may it remain so. So that meteorologists can keep making fresh attempts to unravel it. Rainfall measurements, percentage figures, statistics and the breaking of records, can at best describe the outer appearance of the monsoon. That is not enough. What we need to do is to understand the monsoon from within it, to peep into its mind, to discover signs of what it may be planning to do next. This is the message from the 2019 monsoon, and it is loud and clear.

Prof R R Kelkar’s Interview on Gaon Connection

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Prof R R Kelkar was interviewed by Nidhi Jamwal on Gaon Connection, said to be India’s biggest rural media platform. They discussed various aspects of the monsoon and cyclones. Click on the link below to watch.

Gaon Connection

Filmy Weather (41): “A Monsoon Date”, or a Date with the Monsoon

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“A Monsoon Date” is a very timely film, in that it has been released to coincide with the onset of the monsoon in 2019. It is as refreshing as a brief monsoon shower can be after a long hot summer. It is very different from those monsoon films that drag on in theatres while Dolby Atmos accentuates the sound of the falling rain. It is a short 20-minute film that can be watched on the net.

“A Monsoon Date” belongs to Konkona Sen Sharma in every respect. Nothing else and no one else is of consequence. She is subtle and delicate, and braves with poise an annoying rain that is all set to spoil her evening. In between the rain shots, we see glimpses of her past life. She has already faced many storms of life. This is just another of them. Konkana (her character is nameless) eventually reaches her destination, skin-drenched, and meets her date, but not her destiny. To know what really happens, see the film yourself.

“Satellite Meteorology in India”: Review Paper by Prof R R Kelkar

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Prof R R Kelkar’s latest review paper entitled “Satellite Meteorology in India: Its Beginning, Growth and Future” has been published in Mausam, January 2019, Vol 70, pp. 1-14.

Satellite meteorology had its beginning in India in 1965 when the first facility to receive images from U.S. meteorological satellites was established in Mumbai. More such stations were set up later and field meteorologists used satellite images as value addition to their synoptic charts. But satellite meteorology truly came of age in India in 1982 with the launch of India’s own satellite INSAT-1A. With the launch of many subsequent satellites in the INSAT series, satellite meteorology has grown from strength to strength in terms of capability and application. INSAT-3D is by far India’s most sophisticated meteorological satellite having an advanced imager as well as a sounder. A host of quantitative products are being derived operationally from its data. Satellite inputs have helped to improve steadily the accuracy of weather forecasts in India and thereby reduce the loss of life associated with catastrophic events particularly tropical cyclones. Satellites of the future are likely to have innovative orbits and sensors providing new perspectives of the global atmosphere and oceans.

Click here to read the full paper

Marathi Article about Prof R R Kelkar by Shailesh Malode

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लहरी हवामानाचा अचूक वेध

लेखक – शैलेश माळोदे, नाशिक

डॉ. रंजन केळकर, हवामानतज्ञ. हवामान खात्यातील प्रदिर्घ योगदानानंतर आताही त्यांचे महाराष्ट्रातील हवामानाविषयी संशोधन सुरुच आहे.

‘महाराष्ट्राचे हवामान’ हे माझं पुस्तक मी लिहू शकलो म्हणून मी परमेश्वराचे उपकार स्मरण करतो असं स्पष्टपणे प्रस्तावनेत नमूद करून वैज्ञानिक म्हणून परमेश्वराच्या अस्तित्वाविषयी निःसंदिग्धपणे आणि अत्यंत नम्रपणे आपल्या विविध मर्यादांची जाणीव बाळगत आपल्या ख्रिस्ती असल्याबद्दल कुठलाही खोटा अभिनिवेश न ठेवता डॉ. रंजन केळकर यांनी अगदी दिलखुलासपणे स्वतःचा जीवनपट माझ्याबरोबर उलगडला. डॉ. रंजन केळकर हे 1998 ते 2003 या काळात हिंदुस्थानी हवामान खात्याचे महासंचालक होते. प्रा. डॉ. रंजन केळकर हवामानविषयक तज्ञ तर आहेतच, पण त्यांनी सोप्या भाषेत हवामानविषयक लेखन पुस्तकं, लेख, ब्लॉग व्याख्यानं याद्वारे केलेय. विशेषतः निवृत्तीनंतर. प्रयत्नपूर्वक त्यांनी लोकांना समजेल अशा पद्धतीनं आपली लेखनशैली विकसित केलीय.

हवामानशास्त्र विभागात पुणे आणि नवी दिल्ली येथे त्यांनी 38 वर्षे काम केलं. ‘माझं पुरं आयुष्य मी या विषयाला आणि विभागाला दिलं असं म्हटलं तर वावगं ठरणार नाही. 31 डिसेंबर 2003 रोजी सेवानिवृत्त झाल्यावर मी महाराष्ट्रात परतायचं ठरवलं. 2004 ते 2008 च्यादरम्यान मी पुणे विद्यापीठात इस्रो अध्यासनावर मानद प्राध्यापक होतो आणि उपग्रह हवामानशास्त्र हा विषय मी पदव्युत्तर विद्यार्थ्यांना शिकवला असे सांगत डॉ. रंजन केळकर यांनी त्यांच्यामधील शिक्षणाचा पैलूही खुला केला. 19 डिसेंबर 1943 रोजी मुंबईच्या शिवाजी पार्क भागात त्यांचा जन्म झाला. त्यांचं सुरुवातीचं शिक्षण बालमोहन विद्यामंदिर, मुंबई आणि नंतरचे शालेय शिक्षण सेंट जॉन्स सेकंडरी स्कूल, पुणे इथे झालं. त्यांचे वडील पोस्टात नोकरीला होते. केळकर मूळचे अलिबागचे. या ठिकाणी असलेली चुंबकीय वेधशाळा ब्रिटिशांनी 1900 च्या दशकात उभारली. खरं तर विविध निरीक्षणे चांगल्या प्रकारे नोंदवता यावीत म्हणून ही वेधशाळा मुंबईतील कुलाब्याहून हलविण्यात आली होती. त्याकरिता तिथे वीजदेखील पुरविण्यात आली नव्हती. वेधशाळेच्या समोर राहणाऱ्या केळकर कुटुंबीयांना  वीज नसल्याची सवय आणि वेधशाळेचं अप्रूप होतं.  त्यामुळे डॉ. रंजन केळकर हवामान खात्यामध्ये नोकरीला लागले ही एक प्रकारे आनंदाची बाब होती. निदान त्यांच्या वडिलांसाठी,शिक्षण पूर्ण झाल्यावरउष्णदेशीय हवामानशास्त्र (आयटीएम- आताची आयआयटीएम) संस्था, पुणे येथे 1964 साली अराजपत्रित अधिकारी दर्जाच्या संशोधन सहायक पदावर नोकरी मिळाली.  डॉ.केळकर यांची कारकीर्द शास्त्रीय प्रवाहात फुलली.

नोकरी करत असतानाच त्यांनी पुणे विद्यापीठातून पीएच.डी. प्राप्त केली. त्यांच्या प्रबंधाचा विषय वातावरणीय शास्त्राशी निगडित आणि आता प्रचंड चर्चेत असलेल्या ग्लोबल वॉर्मिंगशी संबंधित होता. कार्बन डायऑक्साईडचे प्रमाण वाढल्यामुळे पृथ्वीच्या पृष्ठभागावरील तापमान वाढते असे त्यांनी संशोधनातून दाखवून  दिले.

आयबीएमचे सहा संगणक 1960 च्या उत्तरार्धात देशाला देण्यात आले होते. त्यापैकी एक आयटीएममध्ये होता. त्याविषयी डॉ. केळकर यांनी प्रयत्नपूर्वक सर्व शिकून घेतले. 1970 मध्ये यासाठीच त्यांना भारतीय हवामानशास्त्र खात्यात पुण्यातील सिमला हाऊसमध्ये ‘कृषी हवामानशास्त्र’ या विषयासाठी विशेषज्ञ म्हणून बढतीवर नेमण्यात आले. 1980 पर्यंत ते या विषयात कार्य संशोधन आणि अंदाज या दोहोंबाबत करत राहिले. 1980 मध्ये ‘इन्सॅट-1ए’ हा उपग्रह हिंदुस्थानतर्फे सोडण्यात आला. त्याद्वारे प्राप्त आकडेवारीचे विश्लेषण करून हवामान अंदाज व्यक्त करण्यासाठीच्या गटात डॉ. केळकर यांची निवड झाली.

सहा प्रदीर्घ वर्षे त्यांनी हवामान खात्याचे महासंचालक म्हणून कार्यभार सांभाळला. सात बढत्या मिळवून ते या पदी पोहोचले. हिंदुस्थानमध्ये डॉप्लर रडार्सचा वापर माझ्या महासंचालक पदाच्या कारकीर्दीत सुरू झाला.’’ 1999 मध्ये ओडिशात महाचक्रीवादळ झालं. त्यात दहा हजारांपेक्षा जास्त लोकांचा मृत्यू झाला. डॉ. केळकर म्हणतात, ‘खात्यानं अंदाज बरोबर व्यक्त केला होता, पण आपल्याकडे तो लोकांपर्यंत पोहोचविण्यासाठी दळणवळण यंत्रणा आणि हलवाहलवीच्या सुविधांचा अभाव होता. त्यानंतर सरकारने त्याबाबत ठोस पावलं उचलली. राष्ट्रीय आपत्ती व्यवस्थापन प्राधिकरण आणि एनडीआरएफची निर्मिती झाली. केळकर यांच्या कारकीर्दीतच 2001 चा भूज येथील प्रलयकारी भूकंप झाला. त्यानंतर त्यांनी भूकंपशास्त्रीय अद्ययावतीकरण करून पाच मिनिटांच्या आत नेमकी स्थिती कळवणारी यंत्रणा तयार झाली. गोवारीकर मॉडेल 2002 मध्ये विफल ठरल्यावर केळकर यांनी डायनॅमिक मॉडेल या संस्थेने मॉडेलच्या जागी प्रस्थापित करण्यात महत्त्वाची भूमिका बजावली.

आज निवृत्त झाल्यावरदेखील डॉ. रंजन केळकर हवामानशास्त्रविषयक विपुल लेखन आणि प्रबोधन करतात. त्यांनी एकूण आठ पुस्तके इंग्रजी आणि मराठीतून प्रकाशित केली आहेत. एका विशेष प्रकारच्या शांतीचा अनुभव घेत डॉ. केळकर यांचा जीवनक्रम सुरू आहे. तो एक आदर्श म्हणायला हवा.

World Meteorological Day 2019


Today is World Meteorological Day. Prof R R Kelkar’s article in Agrowon newspaper about “the Sun, the Earth and the Weather”.

Filmy Weather (39): Kedarnath, or Love and Hate in the Time of Rain

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It was in March 2018 that I wrote my previous post in this series. This long break was due to my inability to go to a movie theatre. When I could overcome my temporary immobility, I decided to watch “Kedarnath” for a variety of reasons. First, it was Sara Ali Khan’s debut film, and I have been her grandmother’s ardent fan! Second, it was a disaster movie, and I always like to see how films depict the India Meteorological Department’s role in weather-related disasters, if at all. Third, I had seen Sara’s aunt Soha Ali Khan in another disaster movie, Tum Mile (2009), and I wanted to make a comparison.

There is no doubt that Sara Ali Khan, with all the actor’s genes in her, carries the entire film and steals the show as Mukku, the vivacious mountain girl. But it is not without the help of Sushant Singh Rajput who graciously allows her to do that, literally carrying her on his back in his role as Mansur, the Pitthoo.

Among the many songs of Kedarnath, Qaafirana is nice and sweet: “Aise Tum Mile Ho, Aise Tum Mile Ho, Jaise Mil Rahi Ho Itar Se Hawa…”. But the perfume does not linger long in the air. Soon afterwards the atmosphere gets vitiated by the stench of hatred, jealousy, separation, misunderstanding, shrewdness, ambition and all. To all this, the environment adds its own woes. Kedarnath does not have just the one mandatory rain song that Hindi movies are required to have. Here, all life including rituals, ceremonies, weddings, arguments, and fights, goes on in the midst of heavy downpours. In one scene, where it is not raining, the heroine is immersed in freezing river water many times as if in compensation. Even when there are no visuals of rain, the film has the sound of pouring rain in the background. The audiography is so realistic that one feels that it is literally raining over the roof of the movie theatre!

In Tum Mile, the Meteorological Department was shown to be a place where people played carrom to pass the time, oblivious of the rain. Kedarnath has a brief sequence showing quite a high-tech Meteorological Department in action, with the staff discussing the situation arising from a low pressure area developing in the Bay of Bengal.

Tum Mile like Kedarnath, was also a disaster movie, but it was singularly focussed on the Mumbai rain event of 26 July 2005. Kedarnath while dealing with the cloudburst of 16 June 2013, attempts to tackle several problems in one go, and obviously cannot succeed. It has inter-faith conflicts, family discords, poverty, hazards of mountain life, all on the agenda. But it does deal with the Uttarakhand disaster in some detail, simulating the cloudburst process pretty well and using actual documentary footage of the tragic events. If the lesson it wants to teach is that man should not disturb the balance of the environment, then it does that effectively.

Kedarnath is about human beings seeking God residing on an inaccessible mountain top. But do they find him? And what do they do after finding him? These and other questions remain unanswered. Like, why does God allow natural disasters to happen? What role does he play at that time? Is it his way of disciplining those he loves? Is it his intention to restore order in an unruly and reckless world? And if an ordinary disaster can be so horrible, what will happen on his final day of judgment?

See also: Filmy Weather (9): Tum Mile, Love in the Time of Rain

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