Amateur meteorology in India

by on December 27, 2017 at 1:57 pm in Science | Permalink

India’s amateur forecasters are not formally trained in meteorology. Still, many people rely on individual blogs or Facebook pages that have built reputations after years of forecasting. “U r a gr8 help” reads a message Srikanth received from one reader of his Chennai Rains blog, which he manages with two other people. Another reader invited the Chennai Rains team to his wedding.

Weather wonks such as Srikanth are scattered around India. In the financial hub of Mumbai, 64-year-old retired businessman Rajesh Kapadia has become a local hero for the predictions on his blog, Vagaries of the Weather. Kapadia’s passion for meteorology started when his father gave him a wall-mounted thermometer as a teenager. At first, people mocked his weather obsession. “They thought I was a madman looking at clouds,” he said.

In the northern Indian city of Rohtak, 16-year-old Navdeep Dahiya sends local farmers WhatsApp and Facebook weather alerts while studying for school exams. Dahiya describes 2014 as his “golden year” — it was the year he went on a school trip to the India Meteorological Department. “I saw how farmers are helped by the weather,” he said. “I saw how they use all these gadgets to predict weather.”

Dahiya soon set up his own weather station at home; he has thermometers, an automatic rain gauge and a digital screen. Now known as Rohtak Weatherman, Dahiya sends out weather reports in Hindi and gets phone calls from farmers in the region asking for predictions.

That is from Vidhi Doshi at WaPo.  I would be very interested in knowing how the forecasts of the amateurs (probably not the right word at this point) compare to the professionals.

1 Ray Lopez December 27, 2017 at 2:04 pm

I think supercomputers beat amateurs; I recall reading they are pretty accurate out to 12 hours, and three day forecasts have improved markedly. That said, when I used to cycle along the W&O trail in DC, I was an expert at looking at clouds and knowing whether it would rain or not. I was usually right on.

Bonus trivia: in southeast Asia roads are not built with shoulders and it’s quite dangerous to bicycle along side of them, even walking or jogging is a challenge. Also always carry mace or a big stick to ward off dogs which sometimes try and ambush you.


2 bop December 27, 2017 at 3:43 pm

IPA(key): /ˈwisan/
Etymology 1
From Proto-Germanic *wesaną (“to be, remain”), from Proto-Indo-European *h₂wes-. Compare Latin Vesta (“goddess of the hearth”), Sanskrit वसति (vásati, “dwell”).

Us vasati vesta’s command Ray Lopez to stop pros·e·lyt·izing and instead to wisan.

I am not a bot but a person commanded by swansdown willow excellence.


3 Crikey December 28, 2017 at 2:05 am

I’ll be interested to see how well self learning computer programs end up predicting the weather, compared to both their human counterparts and current, highly detailed, models. I’ll put 20 cents on at least matching current models while being significantly less floppy.


4 Evans December 27, 2017 at 5:46 pm

…amateur weather stations/websites/blogs are common around the world — U.S. is certainly loaded with them. Why is India especially noteworthy?

Routine weather is easy to forecast short-term. Unusual weather and long-term weather forecasts are very tough even for seasoned meteorology professionals. If you have access to a window, a calendar, and a current long-range weather radar image, you can forecast short-term as good as the
“certified” meteorologists on TV/radio.

“You don’t have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing”


5 Ray Lopez December 27, 2017 at 10:15 pm

Here in the remote mountainous Philippines, I use Wunderground’s “Wundermap” satellite image, but tropical weather is much tougher than temperate climate weather to predict. Clouds that back home I would not consider containing much rain have tons of rain. The sky opens and a tubful of cold water (it’s not a warm rain in the tropics, it feels cold and miserable, even though it may be in the 80s F) falls on your head. Then, 10 minutes later, it’s clear. For this reason people here, when it starts raining, take shelter for about 10 minutes. So indeed the local yokal is a font of knowledge for meteorology. Back in primitive man times I’m sure it was the same: the old Polynesian who could tell a storm was coming from cirrus clouds or other clues, or could tell where land was from signs from nature and the like.


6 anon December 27, 2017 at 6:02 pm

On mathematics threads in Quora, while Indians do post many correct answers, disproportionate number of incorrect answers seem to be generated by Indians. Often, an Indian person will copy a correct proof given earlier in the thread, modify it slightly in a way that betrays great ignorance and present a wrong proof.
I am convinced most of the tinkerers in India are full of bs.


7 Anonymous December 27, 2017 at 6:39 pm

On the contrary while there is a lot to criticize in India , tinkerers are often impressive. Clearly you haven’t heard of the Indian penchant for Jugaad.

Jugaad (alternatively Juggaar) is a colloquial Hindi (Devanagiri: जुगाड़), Urdu (Urdu alphabet: جگاڑ) and Punjabi word, which has various meanings depending on the situation. Roughly translated, jugaad is a “hack”.[1] It could also refer to an innovative fix or a simple work-around, a solution that bends the rules, or a resource that can be used in such a way. It is also often used to signify creativity—to make existing things work, or to create new things with meager resources.


8 anon December 28, 2017 at 10:36 pm

Regarding the disproportionate number of inaccurate answers, one of the reasons Hendrik Lenstra and other number theorists who received the Primes in P paper in their inbox had not looked at it carefully, is because Indians are a huge source of crackpot proofs that these professors are emailed on a regular basis. So even Indians who do rigorous work, like the authors of that paper, suffer this reputational consequence.

Americans in the 19th century have a huge tradition in tinkering, with tangible inventions to their credit. On Quora threads, Indians out of ignorance are tinkering with already known proofs given in the answer thread, in the most naive fashion, and trying to pass them off as their own. It is not ingenuity – but stealing – also a mix of arrogance and ignorance. But what comes across is overall venality that bodes ill for the society.


9 blah December 27, 2017 at 8:47 pm

What you say does apply to Quora and many other fora, but comparing that with amateur forecasters helping farmers seems far-fetched: if the latter are bs, it doesn’t follow from the former.


10 Axa December 27, 2017 at 6:39 pm

Well, let’s compare the forecasts of Zero Hedge vs professionals. There’s your answer.


11 Michael Caton December 27, 2017 at 8:06 pm

An amateur on the internet who’s known for weather forecasting has been selected for by one and only one variable, ability to predict the weather. Professionals, that is one of many things that got them through school. In this way I’ve often wondered if part of the Great Stagnation results from credentialing – not in the sense that there are guild or government barriers to entry, but rather that NOW THERE ARE CHANNELS that end up MAL-distributing talent. So now, the great inventor who might’ve had to channel their creativity into a brand new innovation can get on the track, go to an Ivy, and make an app. Hence Thiel’s complaint that we got Facebook instead of flying cars. I don’t know if this continues to be the case but about 15 years ago I saw fairly convincing data that med school applications dropped when the economy (and IPOs) went up.


12 Joshua December 27, 2017 at 8:44 pm

And intelligent people go (or try to go) to Med School instead of tinkering with bicicles and inventing airplanes (or flying bicycles) and so far and so on. Medicine, IPOs, apps, whatever pays. That is capitalism. People complained about people going into banking instead of engineering. Well, pay them (or make clear they will be paid later) and they will go.


13 bop December 27, 2017 at 9:35 pm

Slow loud forecasting is not a method to gather an audience. In order to make an impression, a blog needs to be a long for advertisement for a public policy. Meanwhile Instagram has gathered an audience of painters without any expression. The ultra-orthodox look at clouds as philosophy, while the rest blindly ululate at their archetype suspicions, at priyam’s elephant, the condorcet pinochets, pinocchio’s paradoxes,
adjucating the approval for sacred oaths. Sprawled oars.


14 A clockwork orange December 27, 2017 at 9:55 pm

Count it!


15 Ryan T December 27, 2017 at 11:18 pm

I’ve usually encountered amateur sites on facebook before hurricanes or blizzards. These sites usually go into extreme detail about a very specific region, sort of explaining how broader regional forecasts are likely to affect their followers or else presenting their own predictions within that specific region. If their predictions wind up beating the wider forecast, they’ll explain why. If not, they’ll explain why not. My interaction with these sites, however, is limited to times of extreme weather.


16 rayward December 28, 2017 at 12:09 am

Agnostic’s cover is blown! Joonas Rask (born 24 March 1990) is a Finnish professional ice hockey forward. He is currently playing with HIFK of the Finnish Liiga. He is the younger brother of the Boston Bruins’ goaltender Tuukka Rask.


17 Asher December 28, 2017 at 3:12 am

I was in the weather business for a short period of time and I quickly realized that almost everyone in the business was a weather fanatic. They are really like artists who will do anything for the opportunity to be involved with weather. (It follows that if you are not a fanatic the pay is not competitive.) There are also many amateurs who can’t make a living from it but this is their calling. (Like artists.) A fellow here has a popular weather site where he makes the forecast himself by reading the radar. I explained that he could save a lot of time by buying computer forecasts. Turns out that he doesn’t really make any money from the site, and interpreting the satellite pictures is his most beloved activity.

In my experience, the amateurs don’t get anywhere near accuracy of the official forecasts, which are a combination of the global weather models plus a lot of local tweaks that national weather services have learned to apply. An amateur could be better in a remote region where the weather service hasn’t really invested in tweaking the global model.

What I also saw is that amateurs are worse on average but naturally they get lucky sometimes, especially with an extreme weather event, and then everybody hails their skill and foresight.


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