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Gone with the wind

Gone with the wind

In retrospect, almost everything seems obvi­ous. The Meteorological Forecasting Divi­sion of the Department of Hydrology and Meteorology should obviously have better pre­dicted the devastating windstorm that swept across Bara and Parsa districts on March 31, killing at least 28 people, destroying 1,000 homes, and rendering 1,200 locals homeless. Why didn’t the division warn on time, even as its Indian counterpart had come up with clear warnings about severe weather events around the same area that day? Our weather center is incompe­tent—it’s tempting to conclude.


But as tragic as the loss of human lives and proper­ty has been, things are not so straightforward. What happened on March 31 was unprecedented. Yes, our weather folks could have been better prepared, but when the weather deteriorates so fast, and over such a limited area, useful predictions are hard to make, even with the best of equipment and manpower. And even if there had been such a warning, would people have heeded it? After all, India’s better warning systems could not prevent the death of 42 people from severe storms in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan last year.


Scientists expect the number of extreme weather events in the world to keep increasing, reaching dou­ble the current levels by the close of the 21st century. Anthropogenic climate change is largely to blame. It’s a bitter irony that smaller countries like Nepal and Bangladesh that are likely to face the brunt of climate disasters can do little on their own to limit the damage. Of course, that does not mean we should be fatalistic and do nothing. We can improve our weather forecast­ing systems, for instance, by quickly installing all three of the proposed radar stations around the country. We should also help those of lesser means to build sturdier houses that can better withstand extreme weather.


Rather than panic about our likely failure to pre­dict the next big one, there is a need for a sober anal­ysis of what is realistically possible to forecast in an increasingly unpredictable global climate system. The US says up to 200 million Americans are at an imminent risk of flooding in their communities in the upcoming hurricane season. Hardly reassuring. Euro­pean weather-watchers are bracing for an equally unpredictable summer. So let us be better prepared. Let us also make a vigorous case for mitigating global warming with the big polluters, for our own good and for the good of the planet.