While the city had a narrow escape during the recent landfall of Cyclone Nivar, K Srikanth, who runs the Chennai Rains blog, spent about eight hours tracking the movement of the cyclone, understanding its nature and updating his followers.
“In general, the time spent on tracking the weather depends on the need. During Cyclone Nivar, I spent about three hours in the morning to share daily updates and five hours for follow-up posts and analysing the weather,” says Srikanth, who has been blogging for a decade.
Srikanth is just one among a flourishing, passionate breed of weather bloggers in Chennai, closely followed by all who want to remain updated about weather conditions in the city. From college students to grads to IT employees, many people in Chennai appear to have taken a serious interest in understanding weather dynamics.
Ever since the 2015 floods happened, a lot of people have shown interest in interpreting the weather, thanks to popular blog pages like Tamilnadu Weatherman and Chennai Rains. The weather blogging community has grown remarkably well in the city.
The evolution of weather blogging
During the initial days of the trend, aspiring weather bloggers took to the Kea Weather Blog for learning and writing. As social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter began to grow, bloggers shifted to these sites for posting regular updates and reaching a wider audience base. Since then, the weather blogging community has evolved enormously.
What could be the reason behind so many people becoming interested in the weather? “Chennai is a water-starved city, but when the northeast monsoon arrives, it is either intense or leaves us with dry spells. This is how many bloggers expressed interest and started tracking weather as a hobby,” says S Bhaskaran, a weather blogger.
A decade ago, when the weather blogging community was still in its infancy, they relied on the weather columns published in the newspapers and subsequently followed other notable weather experts like Ashok Patel to understand the dynamics. But a lot has evolved in the field since then.
Devices for tracking weather
While it is not mandatory to buy any device for tracking weather, Bhaskaran suggests a personal weather station, rain gauge and anemometer (optional) for tracking the weather. The personal station tracks rainfall data, wind data and temperature data, the rain gauge measures the temperature and rainfall. Government agencies use anemometers for measuring wind energy. Such devices can be purchased online from websites like Amazon or Flipkart.
Five years ago, Srikanth installed a personal weather station at his home. The device is connected to his mobile phone through an application. “Many weather bloggers across the city use the device, the data collected from their locations gives us an overall view of the rainfall pattern in the city and is important to understand these patterns. The device also indicates the difference in rainfall pattern in coastal areas and western suburbs during the northeast monsoon if we analyse the area-wise data,” he adds.
Often, the warnings given by the Regional Meteorological Centre (RMC) are brief and do not go deeper into the dynamics of the weather. On the other hand, these weather bloggers provide detailed explanations behind the phenomenon.
For example, during the recent Cyclone Burevi, on December 4th, Pradeep John, popularly known as Tamilnadu Weatherman wrote, “Burevi is no more a cyclone; it has weakened as a deep depression and is lying in the Gulf of Mannar. It will continue to stay there for a while spinning bands in the Delta and North Tamil Nadu regions throughout the day. Massive rains are expected in Tamil Nadu today.”
He emphasises the need for issuing detailed explanations for the benefit of citizens. “We weather bloggers gained knowledge by constantly tracking the weather across India to understand how monsoon occurs and its dynamics. It is important that everyone makes an attempt to know their city’s climatology,” he adds.
From the archives: Watch Pradeep John’s interview
Followers find the updates easy to interpret and important to plan their schedules, especially of travel. “The updates are often bilingual and explain the dynamics of weather in simple terms. The bloggers also share a lot of resources to know how the weather prediction is done. I travel a lot for official work by road and air, and as these bloggers are quite accurate, regular and timely, I get to take a call if the weather is not travel-friendly,” says R Sundaram, a businessman from Velachery.
S M Kirthiga, a Chennai-based PhD scholar, feels that weather bloggers go out of their way to collect data using self-installed weather recorders, logging the data, analysing historical data and finding hidden patterns. “The Northeast Monsoon (NEM) had not been receiving necessary attention in media, as it is the retreating monsoon, covering smaller regions and less duration when compared to the Indian Summer Monsoon (ISM). The depth of research and data on NEM shared by these bloggers is commendable and many critical drivers of the monsoon have been identified and attributed,” adds Kirthiga, who’s specialising in weather prediction.
Resources for beginners
For beginners, Bhaskar lists the following blogs for tracking the weather pattern:
Many citizens now rely heavily on these weather blogs for prediction and planning, more than they do on the daily weather bulletin issued by the IMD. However, the lack of open weather data is a key aspect that the weather blogging community feels let down by.
“Globally, the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) is the biggest weather model. For many decades, the model was commercialised and it was made open recently for the welfare of stakeholders. This is how the world is going towards weather data and it is disappointing to see the IMD moving the data behind a paywall,” Srikanth adds.
Chennai bloggers also point to the lack of enough weather stations due to which the ground scenario is often not known. At present, the city has about 12 weather stations, whereas cities like Hyderabad and Bengaluru have hundreds of weather stations that help the cities in knowing the actual scenario.
There is of course a question of accountability. “The bloggers can increase credibility if they share the references in a well-formatted manner as articles/newsletters. This will also inspire more graduates to consider weather prediction as a research domain,” says Kirthiga.