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Private forecasters smell big bucks in Indian weather

Aug 06, 2019 - The Economic Times

NEW DELHI: Indian weather seems to have given a pocketful of sunshine to private forecasters from across the world with a $100-million market opting for their services for various projects.The government is hiring private operators like The Weather Company (WC) to cater to three main sectors - agriculture, logistics and transport. "We have major clients in all three sectors," said WC India head Himanshu Goyal. The US-based company, which was acquired by IBM in 2016, operates in 178 countries.

It collects data every 15 minutes with a resolution of 500 metres to provide hyper-local forecasts.WC went into a collaboration with the Niti Aayog in 2018 for use of artificial intelligence in precision farming. It also provides data and conducts on-ground research for the agriculture ministry. "The scope of the Aayog project was to introduce and make available climateaware cognitive farming techniques and identifying systems of crop monitoring, early warning on pest/disease outbreak based on advanced AI innovations," Goyal said.The need for more accurate prediction has unleashed a wider domain for the global weather forecasting and services market to grow from $1.2 billion in 2016 to $2.7 billion by 2023, according to the Allied Market Research. "The weather forecasting market in India is worth at least $100 million and is growing at a rapid pace," said Jatin Singh, founder of Skymet. Set up in 2003, the Indian forecaster serves more than 20 clients from sectors like agriculture, power, oil and gas, insurance, and banking. The company has seen its income rising from Rs 2 crore in FY12 to Rs 41 crore in FY19. "The world is dominated by one or two companies, and I'm not sure they understand tropical meteorology," he said.The India Meteorological Department (IMD), the good-old sate-run weatherman, however, says no agency can match its forecasting prowess, given its skill, technology, countrywide data collection and computing power."If you compare with other service providers from all over the world, we-'re second to none in terms of certain events like cyclones or heat waves," said IMD chief M Mohapatra. Advancement in forecasting models has reduced the number of deaths due to heat waves from over 1,500 in 2015 to under 100 this year. "In the past five years only, the accuracy (of forecast) has improved 20-35%," Mohapatra said. Before issuing any forecast, IMD looks at 12 numerical weather prediction models - seven from India and five from nearby countries. "All these things cannot be done by the private sector," he said.Mohapatra want the private forecasters to complement IMD, instead of competing with it. "The private players can customise the forecast issued by IMD to cater to the requirements of the specific sector. That will help the country prosper, and there will be enough space for the private players to do their job," he said. Skymet's Singh agreed that the private sector will have to play ball with IMD to grow the field of earth sciences. But, his experience through the last 15 years in the field has been different. "The fact is that the government works with us, but IMD doesn't. They look at private operators as vendors or equipment suppliers," he said. For Reprint Rights: timesconten...