Weatherman sticks to his word: ‘Had warned govt beforehand’

A year after the devastating floods in Kashmir, Director Meteorological Department, Sonam Lotus, maintains that his office informed people and the government about the weather conditions in time.
Weatherman sticks to his word: ‘Had warned govt beforehand’
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A year after the devastating floods in Kashmir, Director Meteorological Department, Sonam Lotus, maintains that his office informed people and the government about the weather conditions in time.

Narrating the sequence of events in the first week of September 2014, he said some weather systems of Jammu & Kashmir region were showing light to moderate rain on September 1, 2014. "Realizing chances of increased precipitation, we started keen analysis and continuous monitoring. Most weather models were not predicting heavy rain but Indian Meteorological Department's weather models (GFS) predicted heavy to very heavy rainfall from September 2 to 6," he said, adding, "With this information at hand, it was a very confusing signal to take a precise decision on whether to issue a heavy rainfall warning or not."

"We had an intensive in-house discussion on that. So we decided not to issue a warning for September 1 and 2 unless we are very sure. However in our daily forecast which is issued to all concerned, we did show increase in rainfall from September 3 till September 6 and as per the forecast, there was indeed increase in rainfall," he said.

The MeT Director said on September 3 morning, since almost all weather models were predicting heavy rain from September 3-6 over J&K, "we were very sure that there will be very heavy rain during this period."

The weather warning on September 3, 2014 reads: "A  Western Disturbance  over  J&K  and its interaction with monsoon currents  over North West India  is likely to affect the State from today, September 3 (Wednesday)  to September 6, 2014 (Saturday),  with occasional gaps. Under the influence of this weather system, moderate to heavy rainfall/thundershower and snowfall over higher reaches will occur at most places in Kashmir & Jammu divisions and at a few places in Ladakh region particularly along Srinagar-Jammu, Srinagar-Leh, and Leh-Manali Road etc.  Some places may receive heavy to very heavy rain/shower during this period.  This weather condition may trigger landslide and flashflood in vulnerable areas of the state. Above weather system may disrupt surface and air transport during these days."

Lotus said by afternoon of September 3, the MeT office phone and cell-phone kept ringing continuously and people from different sections of society that include media, government officials, travelers, businessmen and students, kept calling. "Knowing fully that it's going to be rain continuously for next three days and people are in distress, we provided the right information.  I told my colleagues to attend to each and every call and provide information to people," he said.

In the evening of September 3, Divisional Commissioner Kashmir, held a meeting of all concerned officials regarding preparedness and to make strategies to overcome any eventuality, Lotus said. "On being inquired about weather, I told them there will be continuous heavy rain from tonight (3rd September) to 6th September but there will be decrease in rainfall from 3rd September night to 4th September afternoon, thus giving administration some window period for the rescue work," the MeT Director said. "Even in my wildest imagination I hadn't thought there will be a flood of such a magnitude which will inundate/submerge the whole of Srinagar," he said, adding, "On on that very spot, the Div Com directed his DCs to cancel leaves and provide best possible help to people. The meeting lasted for about two to three hours and there indeed was slight decrease in rain but it did not stop. Reports of heavy rainfall from across Jammu & Kashmir (mainly South Kashmir) were coming."

"Eventually, it did rain continuously up to September 6 forenoon (a per IMD's Forecast)," he said.

Lotus said by morning of September 4, there was widespread rain in all parts of Kashmir and river Jhelum was flowing above danger mark and there were reports of breach of weak bunds of the water body. "By September 5, water from Jhelum, even entered our office but receded by 6th, but our phones kept ringing after every five minutes and we did respond to each call. There was chaos in office; people could not come for work. We managed it with those inside the campus, including myself," he said.

By September 6 afternoon, he said, there was significant decrease in rainfall and weather started improving.  "We thought everything is going to be normal in two to three days. At around 2.30 am of September 6, some of my colleagues, came shouting that whole campus is filled with flood water. I woke up and saw water flowing inside the office," he said.

Lotus said on September 7 morning, there was chaos everywhere, people crying/running for help and they were shocked to know that whole Srinagar is flooded. "It was such a horrible experience. We thought water will decrease from morning of September 6 but it kept increasing."

"Our office got submerged and remained so till September 9 morning. We wanted to rescue people from submerged areas of nearby Rambagh but there is nothing one could do, if you don't have a boat.  On September 9 we resumed our office temporarily but all communication broke down," he said. "All in all, it was a big disaster, but it did teach us lots of lessons."

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