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Saturday, July 21, 2018

The rainspotter

In the midst of another downpour, the Met chief is Srinagar’s man of the moment.

Written by Mir Ehsan | Updated: April 5, 2015 12:00:15 am
kashmir, kashmir flood, Facebook, twitter,  J&K, J&K flood, Srinagar natural calamity, sonum lotus, natuiral calamity, Met, Meteorological Department, “Nowadays people have access to weather apps and want us to give 100 per cent accurate forecast,” says Lotus. (Source: Express Photo by Shuaib Masoodi)

A day in the life of Sonum lotus, 40, Met Director, J&K

Summer is still some time away in Kashmir and the persistent rain of the past 10 days has caused the mercury to drop a few notches. When Sonum Lotus leaves his official residence at 5.45 am, the sun is yet to come up. But Lotus needs to be at work by 6 am. These are busy days for the Srinagar office of the J&K Meteorological Department. Its observatories spread across the state and numbering around 45, with 15 automatic and 10 manual weather stations, have been updating forecast and sending related data 24X7.

As J&K Met Director, Lotus needs to be on top of all those figures. Especially after September 2014, when over the course of a night, rains and fast-rising Jhelum waters had left Srinagar facing its worst floods in 75 years. “Our outstations record every minute detail related to weather, radiation and seismic activity. These details are then studied by our meteorologists before reports and bulletins are released,” says Lotus.

With the Valley recording 300 mm rain in March, the highest since 1983 — triggering fears of another round of flash floods — phones have been ringing off the hook at the Met office in Rambagh, in the heart of Srinagar. Lotus, 40, makes it a point to reply to each worried caller personally. On March 26, he issued an advisory asking people as well as the government to remain prepared for the worst.
“Since the flood alert was issued, I have been coming to my office early in the morning,” says Lotus.

By 7.30 am, he has compiled reports based on inputs from officials. He then sends his first weather report of the day to the government through the Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir. “Once a flood alert is declared, each bit of weather information is sent to the state administration,” Lotus says.

Around 9.30 am, Lotus holds a meeting with officials and only after that is the first weather bulletin for the day released to the government and media. “We also send our weather reports to the National Disaster Response Force and State Disaster Rescue Force as well as other departments,” he says.

It’s only now that he takes a small break. He had left home without breakfast, and asks the office boy to get him tea and biscuits from the canteen.

Talking about the September floods, the officer smiles that people seem to have realised the importance of his department only then.

“Between September 4 and 8 we received thousands of calls from people. Everybody wanted to know when the weather would improve.”
He recalls how his department kept functioning even after the Met office had itself got inundated and the landlines got cut. “Ours was the only office that functioned under such circumstances. Only a cellphone connected us to our headquarters in Delhi.” Next, electricity snapped and they soon had to give up the cellphone too, as it could not be charged.

“Nowadays people have access to the Internet and weather apps, and want us to give 100 per cent accurate forecast,” Lotus says. “Though we use the latest equipment and our experts try their best, sometimes our prediction is not 100 per cent correct and people start slamming us on social networking sites.”

It’s 2 pm now, and television channels, to Lotus’s anger, are showing old footage of the September floods and predicting fresh floods in the Valley. He gets a call from his own family at Leh. He reassures them that there won’t be a repeat of September and water would not breach the Jhelum. “I don’t even get time to talk to my family,” says Lotus, a Physics M.Phil who joined the Srinagar office in 2008.

Busy fielding calls, Lotus has to put off his lunch till 2.45 pm. But he can’t linger over it, despite having had only tea and some biscuits since morning. “I like to respond to every caller myself as I know how worried people are,” he says.

At 3 pm, he leaves for a meeting headed by Revenue Minister Javid Mustafa and attended by senior officers, where he briefs them on likely weather patterns over the next few days.

Around 5 pm, Lotus is back in office. There is a sudden flurry as a senior official calls to say there had been a cloudburst in south Kashmir. Lotus rushes to another room to contact the south Kashmir station. It turns out to be a rumour. Immediately, a message is sent to a local radio station to broadcast that people should not pay heed to such reports.

At 5 pm, Lotus asks his colleagues to issue another bulletin. “We release two bulletins everyday for the government and the media” he says.

Laughing, Lotus acknowledges his newfound popularity. One sign of it is the number of fake Facebook and Twitter accounts created in his name, one of which incidentally got 25,000 likes for a post, perhaps the most for a government official in the state. “Some people are spreading misinformation through my fake account. I was forced to lodge a police complaint,” smiles Lotus.

People planning weddings also call him now to ask him about the best timing given the weather conditions.

Even his name is a source of much interest. “A caller asked me to change my name from Sonum Lotus to Sonum Rose as lotus attracts water while rose attracts sunshine,” he grins.

Hailing from Shara, a remote village 60 km from Leh, Lotus had a brief stint at a mountain Met centre, where he used to provide weather and avalanche forecast to the Army, before moving to Srinagar.

At 8 pm, Lotus leaves for home, but after noting down weather details from various computers. “People call me even at odd hours. I have to keep myself updated,” he says.

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