How to rein in the wrath of rain Gods?

It’s sad that we can put a man on the moon but still suck at predicting the weather.

How can we rein in the wrath of torrential rains, and be better prepared even before they strike havoc disrupting city life? Well, when heavy rains lash the cities, causing traffic snarls, hit train and other services, we are forced to venture out of inertia. It’s time to wear the thinking hat, and think hard. Why can’t our cities get accurate and timely weather forecasts that matter? How are cities across the world deal with such a scenario?

Consider this…Life in Mumbai was thrown out of gear as the city received the heaviest rainfall of the season. Many local trains were cancelled or delayed, major roads got submerged and citizens returning home or going to hospital got stranded on roads and in trains – causing much public agony. Citizens were caught unaware till they hit the roads, only to get stuck.

Is there a way technology could have leveraged to prevent such recurring incidents that causes widespread public agony? Can our cities weatherproof the day to day operations to avoid such disasters? It’s great to know how the weather going to be on our city two days from now. But, what does it take to devise a system that can help better prepare to fight such emergency? The challenge is while traditional weather forecasting can predict general weather conditions with some accuracy, it doesn’t always give government agencies and utilities the kind of information they can take action on.

Predicting the weather for a specific location down to a square kilometer, and how it will affect the people and infrastructure there, is a tough computing problem. And it’s that sort of hyper-local forecasting that advanced technologies like Deep Thunder can provide. This can offer high–resolution forecasts for a region, ranging from a metropolitan area up to an entire state, with calculations as fine as every mile.

Often, when we think of supercomputing, our mind doesn’t immediately jump to weather forecasting. But, advanced supercomputing models can help our cities leverage much more short-term forecasts, predicting everything from where flooding and downed power lines will likely occur to where winds will be too high. Forecasts are made up to a day ahead of time. The reports can be customized to visualize the specific weather elements a business may be concerned about, such as wind speed and direction for a disaster management crew.

Significantly, what needs to be beefed up is not really about the weather. It’s about improving the effectiveness of a city’s weather–sensitive operations, such as emergency management, traffic management, asset management or logistics, and business continuity with very specific, up–to–the minute information.

Consider this. The government of Rio De Janeiro, implemented Deep Thunder in a new weather prediction center designed to help the city adequately prepare people for flash floods, which left over 200 dead earlier in 2010. Located in Cidade Nova, the center integrates and interconnects information from multiple government departments and public agencies in the municipality to improve city safety and responsiveness to various types of incidents, such as flash floods and landslides.

Consolidating data from various urban systems for real-time visualization, monitoring and analysis,  such sophisticated technologies can provide City’s incident commander and responders with a single, unified view of everything happening around the city on a video wall, including surveillance cameras, maps, simulations, news updates, resources and information that they require for situational awareness.

Certainly, if only the city planners can know with accuracy what the weather will be ahead of time, they can more effectively plan effective travel conduits, avoid traffic accidents, logistics for a cricket match or a live entertainment show, emergency operations, including back–up operations. This necessities using weather analytics so as to optimize our citizen centric service chain by planning around adverse weather conditions, reducing delays, protecting and maximizing use of valuable assets, and streamlining scheduling. It’s time to act smarter, and act collectively to embrace proven technologies to beef up our cities integrated response systems.

Let not the wettest day leave us high and dry as rains are there to enjoy….

This is contributed by Dhamodaran Ramakrishnan, Director, Smarter Planet Solutions, IBM India/South Asia

 

In his role as the Director of Smarter Planet Solutions for IBM India/ South Asia, Ramakrishnan Dhamodaran, is responsible for spearheading IBM’s Smarter Planet strategic initiatives in the region. Dhamodaran has spent about 25 years assisting companies in their use of information technology to solve their business problems and gain competitive advantage. Dhamodaran holds a Bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Madras, and a Master’s degree in Management from IIM-Bangalore.

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  • September 13, 2012

    shweta

    In Mumbai, you dont need to predict weather, the story is same every year. It pours it drains and it makes hell for mumbaikars to live in such a pity condition. We dont need weather predictor rather a planner to what kind of action can be taken to reduce the traffic and floods. Where the accumulated water on roads can be diverted, how the floor levels can be elevated for water management. How the water which keeps flowing every year on same roads same way and creating same congestion with no change. This should be changed. We can forecast weather but can we effectively remove the root cause of traffic and floods in mumbai??

  • September 16, 2012

    N.Chakrappani

    When there is torrential rain and there is evidence that it is going to wreak havoc, what is imperatively done is the evacuation of the city residents to safer places. Well. It could be said that it is all efficiently done and the lives of many residents saved. Then what fun is it if the prediction does not help in preventing the damage itself? So, wearing the thinking hat is sensible but which direction does the thinking goes is important. Getting accurate data to predict timey weather forecasts is one thing and getting even the monsoon rains on time and in adequate amounts is another. Now, in India, the 2012 South West monsoon is almost a ‘wash out’ (!). Yet there were heavy flooding in Assam and Delhi causing extensive damage to life and property whereas, in the South of the country, the monsoon was playing truant. It was indeed predicted to be deficient by the Met Office. But why should there be deficiency at all? Year after year, the quantity of rain fall is progressively reducing on the one hand and during times of rain, it pours down so heavily that the establishment is unable to cope with the havoc of rain damage. All the water ways and tanks become full and overflowing during such times. Within a period of one or two months, there are reports coming that there are draught conditions! What a pitiable anomaly?

    The use of sophisticated weather predicting models as well as he advanced technologies like Deep Thunder may do very little in actually providing the necessary solution. If the cities were not smartly planned or if the civic amenities were not smartly designed, any amount of rain fall would play havoc. Life in Mumbai gets thrown out of gear not so much due to the heavy rain fall as much as it is due to the fact that the development works in the city had been undertaken without giving much thought to the natural flow of the flood waters during heavy downpour and the need to divert the flow through alternative channels. The city has grown exponentially and the open spaces were disappearing at a very fast rate over the decades. There was extreme greed for land and the new reclamations were grabbed up for constructions with little adherence to the topographic rules. There are unauthorized human settlements right on the paths of storm water drainage channels. This comes out to the fore only when the flooding exceeds a certain limit. The answer to this problem? Please see point #3 below.

    The use of Deep Thunder to forecast the weather locally will be a boon, no doubt, when all the other aspects are otherwise normal in a city. Only during catastrophes, the inadequacies of a city’s preparedness would be really tested. Who could forget the catastrophic cataclysm unleashed by hurricane Katrina in 2005? It was the deadliest and the most destructive, the costliest natural disaster, as well as one of the five deadliest hurricanes, in the history of the United States. It was termed as the worst engineering disasters in the history of the US. Decades ago, some navigable commercial waterways that extended from Lake Pontchartrain were closed, followed by the construction of a levee system. These had created subsidence in the area and made it vulnerable to flooding. Under these circumstances, any weather forecasting system would not have prevented the catastrophe. The city of New Orleans was not smart enough to prevent this disaster. So, build the cities smarter.

    Some thoughts, especially for India, to ponder over:
    1. The environment is damaged to such an extent, that the seasons are no longer the same as experienced by our grand parents and great grand parents. Even as we cry hoarse that we need to protect our earth since it belongs to our posterity, we continue to do everything that causes more damage to the environment. Introduction of new and green technology in the place of old ones and green- technologizing the areas not yet covered may reduce the impact. Each district in each city may be assigned KPIs, indexing a specific number of trees for every citizen within a defined time frame as a first step to increase the green cover. The local bodies might make it mandatory to make the new constructions to plant trees and nurture the same for issue of building approvals and for availing power and water connections.
    2. During rainy season, the water ways and tanks get full within no time because, they are heavily silted and full of filth that they no longer hold the same amount of water as they did on January 01, 1900. Drastic measure need to be initiated to de-silt and clean up the waterways and tanks as early as possible. Harvest the rain water even at the outer peripheries of the districts by landscaping smartly and channel it to the drinking water supply source of each district. Introduction of smart gadgets may follow to gauge the flow of water in the channels and the level of water in the reservoir.
    3. The buzz word is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and the public-private partnership is being spoken about frequently in different forums. To ensure accelerated development, it is essential that there has to be increased level of public-private partnership. This would also ensure increased ‘fortune at the bottom of the pyramid’ as put across by C.K.Prahlad, a very distinguished management guru and professor of strategy. The proof of this concept is becoming evident in some of the African countries already. India is in a much better position than the African region. Why not IBM adopt a village and develop it into a model smarter village with synchronized developments in infrastructure and civic amenities with the smartened equipment in the power, water, environment, health and safety as well as road management areas? Recently, there was a news item that a farmer, being unable to wait any longer for the monsoon rains, had opened his paddy fields for goats to graze on with the crop already grown up to about a foot and a half. What a pity? Was there any government or quasi-government agency to bail him out of the situation? He needed a fail-safe and smarter irrigation system. Tackle the problems one after the other and showcase the village and replicate the success in other villages. IBM may well join hands with a local partner company for enhanced visibility and faster results, say for example, partner with the sugar mills in the State of Uttar Pradesh. IBM’s offices from different regions of India may adopt this model for local partnerships.
    4. It is too good to look at the slogan “Smarter Planet” and that should mean not only ‘smarter cities’ but also ‘smarter villages’. Bill Gates had fully realized the need to have eco-friendly toilets and had committed $370 million for the re-invention of toilets. He challenged entrepreneurs and researchers to try their hand at developing environment friendly ways of disposing of the human waste and also handed out a prize money of $100,000 to the researchers from Caltech. Smart investments in sanitation can reduce disease, increase family incomes, keep girls in school, help preserve the environment, and enhance human dignity. India, still with its millions of villages that lack basic amenities, cannot take refuge behind the 9.0% GDP growth. The cities in India, face heavy pressure due to the urban migration from villages mainly due to their vanishing livelihood. By preventing this exodus, a lot of pressure on the cities would be eased. The only way to do this is to create an environment at the villages so that there is no migration from the villages. The ‘Fortune at the bottom of the pyramid’ concept should do wonders if only there is the right amount of impetus from the responsible stakeholders, including the industry. Presently, the industry focuses on villages only for one purpose – to put up the mobile phone towers. It is time to look at the villages as the main engine of the India economy. Only if there are good rains and good crop yields, the Indian economy would grow at even the much pegged level of below 9.0%. How could anyone in India forget the recent North East crisis? Special trains to evacuate the North Eastern people from the South and then again special trains to bring them back to their places of work in the South . . . Any idea of how much of energy was wasted in this whole episode?

    It is not only rains that are to be enjoyed but the privilege of not having to migrate to farther places for earning a living also must be enjoyed with the dear and near ones. If this is ensured, one could sing happily B.J.Thomas’s ‘Rain Drops Keep Fallin’ on My Head’ because, ‘It won’t be long till happiness steps up to greet me’.

  • November 2, 2012

    N.Chakrappani

    I am really very much interested in knowing how effectively your Deep Thunder with the help of advanced supercomputing models did help in minimizing the damage caused by the ferocity of the superstorm Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast of the United States!!!