Weather the storms | Sunday Observer

Weather the storms

The role of several Government agencies came under the spotlight in the aftermath of the recent devastating floods, with the harshest criticism reserved for the Meteorology (Met) Department. The Met Department is entrusted with amassing data from numerous collecting points situated around the island and forecasting weather based on such data.

This collection of data is done manually at 35 centres and automatically at 25 centres. The automated data comes directly to Colombo while at the 35 manual centres, data is collected every six hours and someone entrusted with the job must transmit such collected data to Colombo.

Director General of the Met Department, S. R Jayasekara

“Forecasting weather is currently done by adopting a method called Numerical Modelling where various values are put into various weather conditions and we predict a trend. According to the Met Department, they can predict up to an accuracy point of 95 percent, but there is a bigger part that technology can play,” a government official involved in the subject said to the Sunday Observer.

With inclement weather that seems to be more of a trend nowadays mainly due to climate change, it is vital for countries to equip themselves with best means of forecasting weather to minimise damage to infrastructure, houses and lives.

However, with ever evolving technology in this particular field, the Director General of the Met Department, S. R Jayasekara is of the view that merely obtaining the best technology or duplicating methods and technical means that are of developed countries is not a solution.

“We can’t simply take a system from another country or merely do what others follow for the simple reason of where our country is situated, wind conditions and other numerous reasons. It is therefore important that we have a system that originates within us to suit our country,” he said.

The more chaotic the atmosphere is it is more difficult it is to predict short term. It is therefore necessary that technology is developed in this area. According to Jayasekara, a combination of both technological and traditional methods seem to be working better.

Disaster Management Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa announced that Japan has agreed to provide us with two Doppler Radars.

Accordingly 2.5 billion Japanese Yen will be granted by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to establish a Doppler radar network in the Department of Meteorology.

Speaking to Sunday Observer, S R Jayasekara stated that the installation should be completed by 2020. “The advantage of Doppler Radar is that it goes further and reports on location, wind direction, strength and boundaries between warm and cold fronts. Two Doppler radars are sufficient to cover the island if correctly placed and so far we have identified the places,” he said.

Whatever new tools are introduced these are mainly utilised for observation and not for forecasting, that is completely different. It is true that Sri Lanka is not up to date with the best technology available. But what we must know is not all new technology is conducive to our atmosphere.

“We will be obtaining a receiver of the Himawari-8 satellite from Japan this year. This will be helpful in expanding our means of gathering data. Currently, we obtain data received by Himawari, through the internet, so once we obtain the receiver it will be quicker and accurate forecast,” Jayasekara said.

“The major issue we faced was that our prediction methods cannot predict a rainfall of a bigger scale, for example, the 500 millimetre rainfall in Kukuleganga. But we keep updating our systems and methods. Therefore analysing patterns and numerical inputs that are currently used will be developed more to better the forecasting systems.

“We are dependent on their technology and use a mixed system of utilising data obtained from satellites and forecast by including the numerical system.

“We must infuse these principal theories and devise a method that suits our atmosphere. We continuously carry out tests to see where we can develop.

“However, the importance of integrating technological means are highlighted at every point. For now, the Met department can come up with a forecast within 10 days. But when weather patterns change rapidly, forecasting based on numerical weather modelling will not be sufficient due to rapid changes in our atmosphere. This is a condition that is innate to our country purely due to its location in the Indian Ocean.

“Technology should be transferred from manual to automatic. We are at least 30 to 35 years behind in the use of technology in weather forecasting. Compared to earlier we have more experienced personnel and are capable of giving more accurate weather forecasts.”

The Met department is running a programme to automate all their data collecting centres. But these have taken too long to be implemented. These should be done immediately so that real-time information can be collected.


In our last week’s story ‘Recent Flooding, Man Made’, (Page 6) we published four graphs of the rivers that overflowed during the recent flooding in the southern parts of the country.

The graphs were supplied by the Irrigation Department. We would like to inform our readers that the water levels of the graphs should be measured in metres instead of feet.