With hundreds of lives lost every year in lightning strikes during the pre-monsoon months of March, April and May, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) is planning to send out SMS alerts warning about such strikes to all active cellular numbers within a specific geographical area that is likely to experience the event.
Starting this pre-monsoon season, the IMD will be focusing on issuing lightning warnings and parallel forecasts of thunderstorms. “The lightning will now on be tracked round-the-clock and predictions will also be given out,” said K J Ramesh, director general, IMD, who was in Pune on Wednesday to review the second phase of the Monsoon Mission.
Earlier, the Met agency would send alerts and warnings to the disaster management cell of the respective district administration, but this initiative was not found to be too effective. “Often, the lead time in case of a lightning strike is between 30 and 40 minutes. So, it was proving challenging to disseminate warnings to people facing potential threats within that time,” said Ramesh.
At a pilot run conducted recently, IMD collaborated with Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) in sending out these alerts and tested the tool in 16 states. The Met office also has plans to tie up with TV channels and radio stations to build up an effective system to send out warnings
“It was a successful trial as we tapped mobile towers located within every five kilometre radius. The idea is to push SMSes to all active mobile numbers at a given location, which is likely to experience thunderstorm and lightning activity within a short span of time as per the forecasts,” said Ramesh.
With the tool ready, talks are on to collaborate with more telecommunication operators in order to scale up the project, but, according to Ramesh, more efforts were needed to raise awareness on self-protection and precautionary measures. “Along side warning systems, there is a huge role to be played in creating better awareness among masses. The information will need to be more infographic in nature,” said the IMD chief.
In 2016, lightning had killed as many as 240 people across Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan.