The Greening of the Met.

Time and again, our Met Office fails to predict the rains.

A few days ago , a week ago on Monday, someone there made a prediction, that the monsoon, would set in on Wednesday. With thunder showers. So desperate is the disbelief in the Met office, that hundreds of people went to work, on Tuesday itself , armed with assorted rain gear.
Tuesday afternoon saw the clouds mobilising for the great event, with rain winds wildly rustling through the trees, the earth gave off that particular fragrance it does when it gives up on summer finally, and Tuesday saw a proper rain in the evening, like a strong preamble. At this point the Met Office forecast thundershowers the next day. Almost everyone in Mumbai knew there would be rain , even without the official prediction.

And predictably, there was no thunder. Again.

Maybe time has now come for us to review our current weather prediction technology.

The Doppler radar, advertised as God's gift to Mumbai's Met Office, has arrived, 4 years after the July 2005 deluge, and since it takes 2-3 months to set up, will be useless this year.

I sometimes feel very disappointed with technology , particularly if it involves needles doing graphs, and humans taking casual looks at them between sips of tea, and postulations about El Nino, Global warming, Al Gore and other burning topics of the day..

So I have a very environment friendly, Green etc suggestion. There are certain techniques, used worldwide, for weather prediction. Implementing those will not involve importing machines that become obsolete, or terribly current machines getting hit by a falling flyover or tree or whatever.

In fact, what I suggest , will totally green the city.....

Compulsory planting of mangroves along the coast of Mumbai, leaving gaps for the harbour, beaches, and unavoidable points of natural entry into the sea. Banning of political meetings in green spaces earmarked for the citizens. Better upkeep and enhancement of the Mahim Nature Park, the only refuge of the remaining mangroves. And a wish that at some point, Nandan Nilekani is appointed as the "saviour" of Mumbai....

Upgradation of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park with facilities for housing a large variety of animals and birds, with sufficiently expertly trained manpower to manage and monitor the quality and maintenance of the park resources.

Just outside the perimeter of the park , a science park for students, with appropriate observation machines like telescopes and microscopes, as well as a huge vegetable growing section, managed by the tribal original residents of that park area.

Why ? To predict the weather, is the simple answer.

Children at the science park, learning to observe the spectrum around the sun and moon, can become experts in predicting rain. If the diameter of the visible spectrum around the sun is bigger than that around the moon, rain is likely in a couple of days. Don't know about thundershowers. The crops need water, not noise , no?

Sparrows twittering together in a dry sand bed, indicates impending rain in a day or so. However, if they are fooling around in a pool of water, it means dry days are approaching.

Look for eggs of the Lapwing bird (Titwi). This bird never builds nests, but lays eggs of bare soil. If the eggs are found on a higher elevation in the fields/park, it means good rains are around the corner. Eggs laid in the lower level parts of the field, imply a confidence that there will be no danger from any rain, and hence there may be a drought.

If you see Mynah birds (starlings) bathing in water, it mean rain is around the corner.

Sometimes, you can observe insects around the house. Like dragonflies/monsoon flies. If you observe them swarming around over dry areas, it means rain in imminent. However, if they are seen over pools of water, then get ready for dry weather.

The ordinary centipedes also contribute to the knowledge. An approaching rain makes them worry about eggs, and they scurry about in swarms carrying their eggs to safe places, to avoid rainwater damage.

The House swift bird (Ababeel, Babeela) is a small, smoky-black bird with white throat. This bird frequents old forts, deserted houses and ruined buildings. When it is observed flying really high in the sky, it means rains are expected.

Animals too, do their bit.

Camels in the zoo part of the park may teach the kids something. Turns out that a swelling on the lower part of the camel's legs, indicates imminent rain. Scientifically, it has to do with the effects of atmospheric humidity on the camels legs. But think. The swelling could have been anywhere, and if it had been, say, on the head or hump, humans would not have noticed. So there is a divine plan in making us observe the leg swelling on the camel, for prediction of weather.....

And finally, for those who prefer to garden, do observe your grass, and tomato and french bean plants. The pesky spiders know more about rain than we do. If you see spiderwebs on tomato plants, french beans and assorted grasses, then rest assured that rain will not be happening any time soon. ....

Notwithstanding all these wonderful green signs that teach us weather prediction, we humans, since ages, have only performed invasive rituals to propitiate rain. Praying for rain is probably the only non-invasive method.

In Punjab, a feast (varisty Puja) is organised by villagers collectively during summers, in the event of a long dry spell . All cry for rain and the children sing a song. The essence of the song is that "when children cry, God listens".

In China, huge dragons which were part of religious festivals were torn up when rains failed. Europe, did not lag behind. In many European countries, failing rains triggered an uprooting of saintly statues which were then rooted upside down in soil. As a means of protesting a drought , Italians even chained statues and clipped their wings to show their anger.

When Cajoling a God was unsuccessful, we unimaginative humans target the neighbors.

(Actually, come to think of it, this happens so often in Mumbai, anyway. Verbal and non verbal abuse amongst the neighbors, whether in housing, trains, buses, or just huge crowds. Shouldn't be difficult to figure out the rain. Maybe that's why we get maximum rain and flooding when the garbage clogs the storm drains.)

In Bengal when the end of the drought was not in sight,desperate people threw filth on the homes of their neighbors who in turn abused them; this was considered auspicious (!) for rainfall.

In societies where women are treated second class, like in the Shahpur district of Pakistan, people would throw a pot of filth (ouch!), on the threshold of a notorious old shrew of the area during a drought. This, not surprisingly, resulted in a fluent stream of foul language, which supposedly accelerated the onset of rain. What happens if there is no notorious shrew ? Is a badmouthing mafia don OK as a target for throwing pots of filth ? Are there any limits to foul language ?

Very very interesting. This connection between foul language , abuse and rain. Almost like creating a "dirt" situation of a certain magnitude, and then pleading with the rains to come and complete a comprehensive clean heavy duty wash.

All the more reason for us to consider the Green prediction methods of those lower on the Darwinian scale. And all the more reason for us to teach our children to observe the signs for rain, in nature, rather than teach them the violent methods propagated by those who refuse to learn.... 


An article by Suranga Date aka Ugich Konitari who blogs at Gappa

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