In Conversation with Sonam Lotus, Director Meteorological Department J&K

By Pal Thiksay Gobi LEH, Apr 29, 2016
Ladakh due to its fragile eco-system, there is an adverse impact from the climate change. The cold dessert title has been changed because of the rise in temperature, change in the rainfall and snowfall pattern followed by devastating flash floods over the years. People have experienced drastic changes in climate. 
To talk on the climate of Ladakh in this issue we have Sonam Lotus, Director of J&K Meteorological department, is known for his reliable, timely and regional specific weather forecasting in the state. After receiving his education, he joined J&K MeT department in 2006.
In the year of 2008, he organized a workshop on ‘Integrated Agromet Advisory Service at Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology Shalimar. And in 2010, he organized a conference on “weather service by IMD over J&K.
He received many appreciation and awards including best employee award of IMD for the year 2009-10, and a certificate of appreciation from DGM, IMD for the commendable work and outstanding contribution for installation of AWS en-route Amarnath yatra in 2012.
Q.  Tell us about your educational background. 
I am from Shara village and started my first elementary education from Shara and Secondary education from Govt. high secondary Thiksay. I continued my education class 12th from Boys High Secondary Leh. I majored in M.Sc and M.phil Physics from Jammu University. And in the year 2006, I have joined the J&K MeT department. 
Q.   Tell us about J&K meteorological department and what are the main concerns and roles of it?
The J&K meteorological department has 12 manual observatory networks in J&K. In Ladakh, we have built one meteorological observatory center near Mahabodhi School which will be opened up in a year or two.  Beside this, we have 16 automatic weather stations following its main center in Srinagar, where information from the different center is received on a timely basis.
The main concern of our department is to give timely, advanced and reliable medium range weather forecast (i.e. one day or a week or ten days weather prediction) to administrators; general public or any stakeholders liked researcher, students’ communities, and universities. Moreover, it also plays a part of the role in seismology (the branch of science concerned with earthquakes and related phenomena). So till date, there is no instrument available to predict an earthquake, but we keep the technical detail record of seismic activates which has happened in the past for the reference.
Secondly, in Ladakh and J&K people are mostly dependent on glacier water, so there is a direct relationship between farmers and weather. Disproportionate rainfalls lead to drought and the damage of crops.  So, in order to circumvent these kinds of tribulations, we provide detail survey and data archived to the students, researcher or other stakeholders for further future preventive studies against these misfortunes.
Thirdly, although, services of the meteorological department are very wide and critical, we do provide the early warning system for efficient disaster management, from this point of view we have success stories. E.g National Highway traffic, Leh- Srinagar or Leh- Manali regulates on the basis of weather, if any prediction of excessive rainfalls or snowfalls, then the information are sent to the concerned official administrations and regulatory authorities. So they can make an informed decision on the basis of the report provided. Through this, we can prevent many hardships or mishap accidents against landslide, avalanching in these matters.  So that’s how the metrological department plays a crucial role.
Q.  How and why it is important for people to have accurate weather updates these days?
It is important to have an accurate weather update these days particularly from research or agriculture point of view. From the farming point of view, in order to make a maximum economic benefit from ones farming investment or agriculture produces, one can save its farming against pest and disease by advance weather conjecturing.
Another thing, one can take an advance decision based on reliable weather forecast. E.g. during summer, most of the travelers travel by road, a proper weather update can save time, money and unnecessary inconvenience or sometimes prevent mishap caused by sudden rainfall on the passes. So in order to avoid those kinds of mishap weather updates is very important.    
Over the years, in Jammu and Kashmir regions, weather behaves erratically compare to Ladakh. But on an average, out of 365 days, Ladakh remain sunny days for 300 days and rainfall or precipitation is 100mm, which is count as steady weather.
We all rely on these weather forecasts to plan our day-to-day activities. For example, before planning a summer grill out over the weekend, we’ll check our favorite weather website or app to see whether it’s going to rain or not. So it is very important for the people of Ladakh to have a reliable weather update especially in the monsoon peak that is in the month of July and August.
Q.  Did the department make any prediction on the 2010 flash flood? 
To be honest, being a Ladakh, I have never imagined, that there will be a malevolent disastrous flood flow like adhesive. And I think, neither our grandparents on that year would have thought about it.
Yes, we did a prediction, stating, “There will be heavy rainfall in isolated places of Jammu and Kashmir” but the name of the region was not specified. Though there was a prediction, but it was not an effective and actionable forecast because it was not region and time specific. And personally, I am also not satisfied with this kind of forecast.
Q.  What lesson you have learned out of 2010 calamity?
I learned a big lesson out of 2010 misfortune and we also came with solutions out of past misfortune. In 2015, there was a heavy flood, although the magnitude was much lesser comparatively to 2010 flood. Since then, we were very alert and gave timely and region-specific information to concerned administrative authorities and have lots of success stories. 
Although the atmospheric process is very complex and chaotic, as a result, there is uncertainty in weather prediction, we can never say with 100% weather certainty but can give 80 to 90% weather certainty. So, people shouldn’t panic, but they must stay alert particularly in the month of July and August against heavy rainfall. 
Q.  The rising temperature in this mountainous area is more vulnerable to the climate change and could directly affect the glacier cover and snow of the mountains, how about the importance of public awareness in this matter?
Ladakh is a big region with less population; indeed, the earth's climate is changing. Multiple lines of evidence show changes in our weather, oceans, ecosystems, and more. In order to transform a climate of once particular region into another, it will take minimum 30 years. According to WMO (World Metrological Organization), 2000 to 2010 was the hottest decade in the past 100 years.  
Natural causes cannot alone explain all of these changes. Human activities are contributing to climate change, primarily by releasing billions of tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) and greenhouse gases, into the atmosphere every year. The more greenhouse gases we emit, the larger future climate changes will be.
So as an individual the solution for climate change is an adaptation of climate change by bringing good quality seeds like hydrate seeds, adaptation to climate tolerant seeds, eco-friendly and sustainable practices.  
Q.  What are scopes of climatology for the Ladakhi students?
Although Ladakh is a small society one can work in any part of the world. Increasingly, teams of scientists, often with different types of expertise and from a range of institutions, undertake climatological researchers. This is clearly reflected by the rise in a number of authors contributing to papers published in climatology. 
In many ways, this reflects the changing nature of the research problems addressed by climate scientists. 
This necessarily requires teams composed of individuals with expertise in database construction, modeling, statistical analysis and interpretation, ecosystem and societal responses to climatic variability and changes. Perhaps, more so than other disciplines, climatology is becoming truly interdisciplinary.
It has evolved rapidly as a credible and extremely important area of scientific activity. Its position today is the result of changing scientific, technological, social, economic, and political circumstances. These have created the opportunity for climatologists not only to conceptualize, observe and measure the nature of the climate system in different ways but also demonstrate that understanding the nature and causes of climate is important. It can produce significant benefits for coping with it and managing climate as a determinant, hazard, and resource.
Q.  Ladakh or J&K is getting more snowfall in the month of February and March now, while earlier, it used to be in the month of December and January. What is your comment on it?
My area of specialisation is only weather forecasting, but I do have small knowledge about climate change, From last two-three decades, with rising global temperatures, we have witnessed that the melting rate of snow is faster compared to 1960s and 1970s.
Frequency and intensity of western disturbance are lesser in the month of December and January then February and March. And the occurrence of western distance has been erratic over few years. This year because of the lack of active western disturbances, there is almost no snowfall.
Q.  What is a western disturbance (WD)?
The meaning of WD lies in its name. The disturbance travels from the “western” to the eastern direction. Disturbance means an area of “disturbed” or reduced air pressure. 
Western disturbance (WD) is an extra-tropical storm, which originates in the Mediterranean region; and travel over Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan to enter India loaded with moisture, where the Himalayas obstruct them, causing rain and snow in the western Himalayas. The snow adds to the glaciers, which provide water to India’s major perennial rivers. 
Q. Why frequent flood happens in Ladakh? What is the reason behind that?
Because of vital linkages between one part to another part of the world, environment and development have been tragically demonstrated in contributing to the disaster in any part of the world.
Recent decades have brought heavy rainfalls in Ladakh or J&K region, for which Global warming is partly to blame. Warmer air can grasp more moisture; heavier precipitation is expected in the years to come which lead to heavy rainfall.
Now is the time to tackle the realities of climate change and global warming
Q.  You became a public figure, reliable weather predictor, so how it increase your further future responsibilities toward people?
I attempted weather forecasting as my profession and Govt. of India assigned me to predict the state of the atmosphere at some future time and the weather conditions that may be expected. And I have to give people a reliable and actionable forecast as a welfare, safety and efficient management of any kind of unforeseen natural disaster to people of the state.
Secondly, I feel happy to give people precise and actionable weather information.  
Message to the readers
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