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J&K’s bogus weather forecasts

Ziraat Times Editorial Board

Amidst the ongoing dry winter conditions and relatively higher day time temperatures, Jammu &  Kashmir is facing a tide of misinformation around the weather forecasts. Unscientific, sensational social media forecasts are causing immense difficulties to farmers and the general public, leaving them confused and even distrustful of credible forecasts.

“Breaking – weather forecast for advisory” (sic) – reads one popular social media post, with frivolous content, inviting over 10,000 likes and thousands of shares. Another social media figure made a video from Gulmarg, declaring there “would be no rain or snow in Kashmir until April due to the El Nino impact”. Again, despite the panic created in the process, there were thousands of engagements, likes, shares and comments, for the video.

The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) office in Srinagar finds itself caught in the crosshairs. While it tries its best to remain abreast round the clock, and makes the best possible use of its technical resources, it often issues medium and long-term forecasts now, something its current technical means do not support. This may be as a result of pressure from frivolous forecasts on social media. The expected precipitation spell of January month end is a case in point. While certain long term forecasts do indicate a wet spell in J&K, the time when the forecast was issued was too early,  with the actual nature of this precipitation still unknown. As a consequence, there is a stream of speculatory interpretations from all over the place, often leading to false alarms and missed opportunities. This, coupled with the proliferation of irresponsible social media pronouncements, often based on generalised weather forecasts produced by online weather portals, creates a potent cocktail of confusion and chaos.

For farmers, the consequences are dire. Wrong forecasts about rain and snowfall often negatively influence vital decisions around use of fertilisers, orchard hygiene, grafting, crop sowing time and so on. One of the reasons Kashmir region has not been able to implement the PM Fasal Bhima Yojana so far in its true spirit is that we do not have a robust localised and credible weather forecasting system linked to the agriculture sector.

The general public also faces inconveniences due to wrong forecasts, disrupting travel plans, triggering panic buying and impacting financial decisions. The constant barrage of conflicting “weather forecasts” in J&K now breeds distrust in official and credible channels.

To overcome this situation, first and foremost, IMD needs to stick to forecasts guided by its own technical resources and information database, and avoid medium and long term forecasts which can be far less accurate. Even as traditional knowledge and observations held by farmers and other community members are known to be invaluable in refining forecasts and tailoring them to specific microclimates, this aspect has not been well explored in J&K’s context. Ziraat Times has often used this element in its farmer-centric forecasts in the past, which have proven relatively much more accurate, especially for specific micro-climatic  forecasts. We are the first media institution in J&K which has produced detailed and credible weather forecasts for J&K’s micro-climatic zones for many years now.

Our editorial last week underlined why educating the public about identifying and verifying information sources, especially on social media, is crucial in combating misinformation. Workshops and awareness campaigns undertaken by the Information Department and other credible media institutions are necessary now to equip people with the tools to discern fact from fiction, ensuring they make informed decisions based on credible sources. Ziraat Times has a policy not to produce uncredible weather forecasts because we understand the implications of providing wrong information to farmers and general public. We produce weather forecasts only when credible short term forecasts are available. It is a fact that even the most credible weather forecasts can go wrong and change, but that is an exception and not the norm. In J&K, wrong and generalised  weather forcasts are, unfortunately, now the norm and not the exception. Relying on the medium and  long term forecasts mostly produced by online weather portals, which are often subject of major changes, is not good at all. When it comes to weather, knowledge is not just power, it’s the very lifeblood of communities that depend on the sky’s whims. Sensationalism and speculation would not aggravate the challenges unfolding due to climate change.

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