Updated: August 6, 2021 2:06:07 pm
In his monthly ‘Mann Ki Baat’ on Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi praised Sai Praneeth for helping farmers by providing them with timely weather updates in Telugu. The 24-year-old IT professional from Andhra Pradesh is among a growing online community of independent weathermen in the country.
Over the last few years, with cyclones and extreme weather events becoming more frequent, the demand for weather forecasts has never been higher. Rising to the occasion are amateur weather bloggers, most of them techies and college students, who began to leverage social media platforms to extend their reach.
In Chennai, for instance, K Srikanth, who runs the Twitter handle @ChennaiRains, started developing an interest in weather forecasts after Cyclone Thane hit Puducherry in 2011. Due to the cyclone, a business project of his got delayed.
“I used to follow the weather column in many newspapers. After I realised the impact that Cyclone Thane had in Puducherry, I developed an interest in weather forecasting and I decided to educate myself by reading research papers, discussing with other budding weather bloggers before I started my blog in 2014,” says Srikanth.
He started by sharing simple forecasts and explanations about weather conditions that were affecting Chennai. Seven years later, he has become one of the most trusted weathermen in Tamil Nadu with over 1.15 lakh followers on Twitter.
Sai Praneeth also developed an interest in weather forecasting post the 2015 floods in Chennai, where he was studying at that time. After returning to his home city Tirupati, Praneeth started the Twitter handle @APweatherman96 in 2020 to help farmers.
“I felt that the farmers could have been saved from losses if they had access to advanced information about the weather. I felt that I would provide them with that information in Telugu,” he says.
He regularly shares videos of his forecasts on Twitter and YouTube.
Most of the weather bloggers in the country rely on various government and private weather agencies across the globe such as the Global Forecast System (GFS), a weather forecast model developed by the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP), European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), and the Indian Meteorological Department (IMD).
Srikanth, however, refuses to call himself a “weather forecaster.” He believes he makes an inference of the data available to him.
“When I say I infer data rather than saying I predict or forecast, it is my understanding of different weather models accessible to me. It is based on this inference and understanding that makes me tweet and say that there might be rains in some areas or cyclones in another.
“All the models, data and satellite images are readily available on Google these days. Using wind patterns and radar feeds, I interpret the condition and am able to warn people about rains and thunderstorms approaching the city,” Srikanth says.
Another weather blogger, Navdeep Dahiya, says that he does not believe in just one model. He takes an average of all the models and then predicts the weather. “Only when you know the climatology of a particular place, and the weather system, can you predict what might happen,” he adds.
Communication is key
What makes these weather bloggers stand out from other government agencies like the IMD is they break down the forecasts into something a layperson can understand.
“In India, the communication of the weather forecast is poor and the scope of it reaching the public, especially to farmers from rural areas, is very poor. Most of the farmers are not even aware of the forecast. I started Live Weather of India in 2016 on Facebook and I now give precise district-based weather forecasts and details that are beneficial for farmers,” Navdeep says.
The final year college student from Rohtak in Haryana says that a lot of farmers follow his Facebook page, which has over 36,000 fans, and pass on the information to other rural areas. He makes sure that his predictions and analysis are translated into Hindi so that they can reach more people.
Another weather blogger from Chennai, who goes by the pseudonym ‘Chennai Weatherman,’ believes that though the IMD has a lot of information, “it posts once in 24 hours and reaching a wider audience is difficult.” He said that bloggers like him help the IMD by dissecting the information into simpler terms so that people can understand.
“People do not understand if we use terms like low-pressure area, depression formation, etc. They just want to know whether it will rain in their area, and if it rains, till when will the rains last. We post information daily so people can plan accordingly,” he said.
Since most of the weather bloggers are part-timers and amateurs, the pressure of getting a prediction wrong is high. Even a slight miscalculation can damage their reputation, they say.
Sai Praneeth says that when he first started out, people used to post memes poking fun at his forecasts. It was only when he predicted a recent cyclone in Andhra Pradesh, did they start taking him seriously.
“With nature, errors are bound to happen. When you get something right, people applaud you and when you don’t they question you. This is when I explain to them how and where I went wrong. Being honest is the best way to go about this,” Praneeth says.
Srikanth, who is also an IT professional, calls weather prediction a “Catch-22 situation.”
“If there are a set of bloggers and models that say there will be rain in a particular area, you cannot go against them and say it won’t just to be different. Over time you tend to trust certain patterns that have helped you and you use your experience,” he says.
He wakes up at 3:30 am and dedicates the first three hours of his day to making weather predictions. “In terms of understanding weather patterns of the day, I do it every morning between 3:30-6.00 am. If I must track a thunderstorm or movements, I do it through my staff and sometimes update as and when possible,” he says.
His biggest disappointment, Srikanth says, is that not many could turn their hobby into a full-time profession. “I personally feel that many bloggers, including me, have not been able to convert our hobby into a profession. I do not know why we are not able to do that yet.”
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