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  • Moetasim Ashfaq

Sasti Weather-Gardi [Weather Prediction on a Budget]

Pakistan is recognized as a hot spot for climate change and has frequently grappled with weather and climate extremes in recent years. Confronted with changing weather patterns, the government and private sector's interest in providing actionable, stakeholder-relevant climate services has surged. This engagement is a positive development, but some efforts are overly bureaucratic, misguided, or scientifically unvetted, highlighting the need for course correction.

 

Weather and seasonal outlooks provided by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and weather enthusiasts are of particular note. In May/June 2024, the NDMA predicted a record heatwave and flooding in parts of Pakistan. The region experienced a heatwave but did not break records, and most of the country had a precipitation deficit in June, contrary to NDMA's predictions. Likewise, weather enthusiasts predicted excess rain and snow in early 2023/24 winter. On the contrary, the region did not experience significant weather systems in December and January, resulting in one of the most record-low snow accumulation years.

 

The NDMA and private sector lack the capacity to produce their weather forecasts and do not use their own physical or empirical models for sub-seasonal to seasonal predictions. Instead, they rely on information from publicly available global weather forecasting and seasonal prediction sources. However, the predictions made by these prediction centers across the globe are not always accurate.

 

For example, the European Center for Medium-range Weather Forecast (ECMWF) predicted excessive rains over Sindh in May/June 2024, likely influencing NDMA's flood prediction. Similarly, strong El Nino forcing led many seasonal forecasting systems to predict above-average precipitation over Central and Southwest Asia in 2023/24 winters. However, unusually strong atmospheric variability muted El Nino's influence.

 


ECMWF forecasts for June 2024 and Dec 2023 and predictions by NDMA and weather enthusiasts.  


Due to limited resources, many countries rely on global prediction centers for daily to seasonal-scale predictions. There is no harm in doing so. However, sole reliance on these forecasts is not recommended, especially for long-range (few weeks) to seasonal predictions, which can vary significantly in regions where local climate characteristics are not fully understood.

 

Globally, national meteorological services usually provide weather and seasonal prediction, integrating local and regional expertise with global forecasts. In Pakistan, it is unclear why other federal agencies encroach on the Pakistan Meteorological Department's mandate, using incomplete information from nonindigenous sources alone. Understanding this anomaly requires insight into the state of climate science in Pakistan.

 

When discussing climate change and Pakistan, the focus often shifts to its minimal per capita greenhouse gas emissions and the disproportionate suffering from climate impacts. However, Pakistan's contribution to climate science is also negligible. Several factors contribute to this dismal presence.

 

First, Pakistan lacks a climate-relevant early-age curriculum that meets 21st-century standards, and no public or private university offers comprehensive higher education in Earth and atmospheric sciences. In contrast, India's nearly two dozen IITs alone offer numerous degrees in these fields, many of which are among the leading contributors to climate science research. Similarly, Nepal and Bangladesh have established degree programs and climate-specific curricula.

 

Pakistan's absence of relevant educational infrastructure has created a leadership vacuum filled by unnecessary bureaucratic hierarchies. Consequently, career bureaucrats, politicians with no background in climate science, and well-connected retirees whose first career was unrelated to climate science dominate national climate policy-making and international negotiations. The country's oldest climate-related research center, the Global Change Impact Studies Centre, has been without a leader for years, reflecting the sorry state of affairs.

 

Second, Pakistan has one of the region's most sparsely distributed and publicly inaccessible long-term (~30 years or more) national hydrometeorological observation networks. Only a few dozen meteorological stations provide long-term climate records, with minimal coverage in northern and western areas. In contrast, Nepal, a country fifteen times smaller than Pakistan, has nearly 300 weather stations with long-term records, and India has thousands of rain gauge stations.

 

In recent years, PMD has expanded its network of ground stations, and the private sector has also launched its automated weather station network, which is a good development, but much more is still needed. The weather radar network requires expansion and continuous operation for accuracy in sub-daily weather forecasts.

 

Due to insufficient observations and limited access to hydrometeorological information, Pakistan's climate characteristics and drivers are poorly understood. Medium to long-range weather and seasonal predictions are often less accurate, and future projections are considered unreliable in the region. Scientists require ground truth to understand a region's climate and tune their models for better predictions and projections.

 

Although Pakistan is no stranger to crises, its climate crisis may be the one it is least prepared for, given this quagmire. Developing effective climate services and resilient societies requires a systematic, coordinated, multi-agency effort guided by science, not gimmicks and unvetted administrative measures.

 

While the Earth system operates seamlessly across different scales, daily to seasonal scale predictions and long-term climate projections use different dynamical and/or empirical modeling systems. Therefore, climate services at weather to seasonal scale and addressing long-term climate change challenges require different approaches.

 

National Weather Service commonly runs weather forecasting and seasonal prediction services in most countries, so these should also be the domain of the PMD in Pakistan. In the United States, weather and seasonal forecasting are run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), not by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the U.S. version of Pakistan's NDMA.

 

On the other hand, establishing climate services for climate change projection, mitigation, and adaptation requires joint efforts by research organizations, universities, and meteorological departments. Therefore, to prepare for climate change challenges, Pakistan must strengthen its educational and research infrastructure in climate science to build strong indigenous leadership.

 

Pakistan needs to do more than just play the victim in climate crises. It may have an insignificant role in causing carbon emissions, but its significant role in the region's poor predictive understanding of weather and climate is undeniable. Pakistan's future, along with the future of more reliable and predictable weather and climate in the region, depends on its commitment to establishing a robust climate science infrastructure within its borders.

2 comments

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Gast
02. Juli

The main problem with this country is that, "there are dozens of departments for same type of job", this obscure the mandate/duty of the departments thus there is lack of accountability.

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Gast
01. Juli

Quite an eye opening article regarding Pakistan’s national & global responsibilities wrt climate change & corrective research over local scenarios. Also PMD must be an independent agency with scientists & need to guide NDMA, not governed by NDMA. Need for curriculum development & degrees regarding environmental sciences is need of time.

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