One day in 1945, an unusual passenger boarded a ship that set sail from India, carrying decommissioned British soldiers who had been deployed in the Second World War back to the United Kingdom. Anna Mani, a Malayali Christian woman in her thirties, was crossing the choppy oceans to England, on a scholarship to study instrumentation in the field of meteorology, or weather sciences.

Mani would remain in the United Kingdom for three years. On her return, she would become a pioneering figure in the then emerging field of meteorology. It was ironic that Mani travelled to the United Kingdom for her training. For she helped the Indian Meteorological Department evolve beyond its beginnings as a tool in the imperialist enterprise of the British empire, and grow into a public service institution that, until 2003, was the only body in India that carried out meteorological observations.

Today, the IMD is often a subject of ridicule. This year, for instance, it received much flak in the national media for its inaccurate prediction of the monsoon’s arrival in the northern states. But media attention on its shortcomings often elides the IMD’s successes. Few noticed that months ago, in May, it had accurately forecasted Cyclone Yaas, which originated in the Bay of Bengal, and Cyclone Tauktae, which originated in the Arabian Sea. The IMD also shared its information with other countries in the Indian Ocean region, enabling them to prepare effective responses and safeguard people’s lives.

The IMD is also considered a reliable organisation in areas such as agrometeorology, or the study of the links between agriculture and weather, and river hydrology, or the study of river flows.

Part of the credit for this must go to Mani, whose twentieth death anniversary was in August this year. It was Mani who spearheaded India’s efforts to manufacture its own weather observation equipment, such as barometers and wind gauges, dramatically bringing down their cost – at the same time, she ensured their reliability and precision. She helped the IMD develop measurement standards at par with international ones, studied and created a handbook on solar radiation for India and invented a cheaper and more accurate method to measure ozone levels.

Anna Mani travelled to the United Kingdom in 1945 on a scholarship to student instrumentation in the field of meteorology. Photo: Photo: Raman Research Institute Digital repository.

The 2021 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted a steep rise in sea temperatures along India’s coast over the 21st century, which is likely to make the monsoon cycle even more unpredictable. If India is reasonably well placed to tackle this problem, it is a result, in large part, of Mani’s work in the 1970s on radiation, which sought to analyse weather based on thermodynamic patterns, rather than merely on past weather data.

“She was a genius, someone who could see decades in future,” said RR Kelkar, a former head of the IMD and Mani’s colleague for a brief period. “We talk about solar radiation and global warming now. She was studying it back in the 1960s and 70s.”

If Mani’s contributions were vital, they were all the more remarkable for the context in which she worked. A 2001 paper by Abha Sur, a faculty member at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s program in women’s and gender studies, offered a wealth of biographical detail about Mani. Sur noted that in 1913, when Mani was born, the literacy rate among women in India was a dismal 1% and that there were less than 1,000 women in the entire country who were studying at levels above the tenth grade.

Born into a prosperous family in Travancore, Mani, the seventh of eight children, was a voracious reader as a young girl. Even before she was a teenager, she had read all the books in her house, as well as those in the local library. Sur noted that she strained against the expectations of her gender from a young age. According to one commonly cited story, when her father, a civil engineer and the owner of a large cardamom estate, offered her a customary present of diamond earrings for her eighth birthday, Mani instead asked for and received an encyclopedia set.

Sur, who interviewed Mani in 2001, wrote that growing up, she was closer in her outlook to her brothers, who were being trained for government jobs, than her sisters, who were being groomed for conventional lives as wives and mothers.

It helped that in the 1920s and 1930s, the decades after First World War, when Mani was growing up, there was a change in attitudes towards women’s participation in the labour force. As the historian James Joll has noted, with most men dispatched to various war theatres (many of whom returned with debilitating lifelong injuries) women increasingly took on traditionally male bread-earning roles. Their rising participation in these spheres also manifested in growing numbers of women members in left-wing socialist parties of the time.

Anna Mani in Payeme, Switzerland, 1956. As a young woman Mani strained against the expectations of her gender, and was close in her outlook to her brothers, who were being trained for government jobs. Photo: World Meteorological Organisation.

This, in turn, impacted those parties’ ideas about women labour participation. Sur wrote that this influence could be seen in the left-wing politics of the post war years in India. “The fervour of the independence movement, the mobilisation of large numbers of women in grassroots political opposition, and the rhetoric of women’s emancipation in left-wing politics permeated the consciousness of women students of Anna Mani’s generation,” Sur wrote. Mani herself told her, “In those days, we had respect only for the leftists.”

But though the attitude towards women’s education was changing, especially after the inception of missionary education since the 1880s, Sur suggested that it was still seen by families as a means for women to become better mothers or wives. In Mani’s case, Sur wrote that “there was no persistent opposition to her desire for higher education” from her family, but also that “there was little encouragement.”

Mani forged ahead anyway. “Aware of the growing schism between her perspective and her family’s, Anna Mani ‘got on pretty much on her own’, especially after she left her home to pursue her education,” Sur wrote.

Mani’s initial ambition was to study medicine, but she later turned to physics, “because she happened to be good in the subject,” Sur wrote. After completing an undergraduate honours degree in physics from Presidency College in Chennai, she received a scholarship to do research at the CV Raman laboratory in the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru. Her subject, as it turned out, was the very stone she had shown a childhood aversion to: diamonds. At the laboratory, Mani recorded and analysed fluorescence, absorption, and the Raman spectra of a range of diamond samples.

As the Second World War raged across Europe, Asia and Africa, Mani published five single-authored papers on her research. But in 1945, when she submitted her PhD dissertation to the Madras University, which at that time granted degrees for research conducted at the IISc, the university denied her the degree, maintaining that Mani had not earned an MSc, and was therefore not qualified for a PhD. (Kelkar pointed out that during this period, an undergraduate honours degree was often considered equivalent to a master’s degree.) Undeterred, Mani moved to the United Kingdom to continue her work.

By the time Mani returned, the country was independent, and new institutions, such as the Department of Atomic Energy, the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, and the Indian Institutes of Technology were being set up. At the same time, colonial institutions were being redefined as Indian ones – the Imperial Council for Agricultural Research, for example, became the Indian Council for Agriculture Research. “There was a general feeling that we should be a nation with world class standards in all respects,” Kelkar said.

Under Mani’s leadership, India became one of the few countries in the world to manufacture meteorological instruments in-house. Photo: World Meteorological Organisation.

It was against this backdrop that Mani joined the IMD in 1948 to help shape meteorological sciences in the country. She served the organisation for nearly three decades, retiring as a Deputy Director of its Instruments Division in 1976, a period during which it earned a reputation for indigenously manufactured instruments, reliable data, scientific rigour and up-to-date methodology.

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Food security was a key priority for the Jawaharlal Nehru-led government after Independence, particularly given that memories of the devastating Bengal famine of 1943 – 1944, still haunted the nation. “The 3 million deaths, which were starvation deaths, during the Bengal Famine of 1944 scarred the psyche of Nehru’s generation of Indian leaders,” historian Sunil Amrith wrote.

Meteorological sciences were, naturally, crucial towards formulating plans and policies aimed at ensuring food security.

“Meteorology was given this focus because the government in the initial post-independent period realised its importance, from improving food security to mitigating impacts of disasters like cyclones,” Kelkar said.

By this time, the IMD already had a significant number of Indian officers, since the British administration had reduced its investments and personnel in the organisation during the war years.

The country was also infused with a spirit of nation building, and a desire to break from the era of British rule. According to Kelkar, this manifested even in the sciences. In 1947, the government set up the Indian Bureau of Standards to, among other aims, define the units that would be used for measurements in India. The British yard was replaced with metres, and at the IMD, rainfall began to be measured in centimetres, rather than in inches, as was done under British rule.

Given that most of India’s agriculture was rainfed, the First Five Year Plan, covering the years from 1951 to 1956, emphasised the importance of rainfall to agricultural output. The plan stated that while IMD forecasts with “high degree of accuracy” are sent out by its five regional centres, “No steps have yet been taken to ascertain how these forecasts can be used to secure better timing of agricultural operations”. With this in mind, the plan proposed a weather information dissemination system from the IMD’s regional centres to villages.

In the years soon after independence, the country relied on imported food grains from the United States to feed its people. To improve India’s own foodgrain production, the government launched the Green Revolution in the late 1960s. Over the decades, the government also established agricultural universities across the country, setting aside Rs 55 crore for them in the fourth Five Year Plan, from 1969 to 1974. The IMD was given the task of helping these universities procure data and provide training in agrometeorology.

Food security was a key priority for the Jawaharlal Nehru-led government after Independence, and meteorological sciences had a crucial role to play in achieving this goal. REUTERS/Amit Dave

Meteorological data also played a crucial role in the civil aviation industry – in fact, the IMD was under the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism until 1985. The civil aviation as a sector was on the rise globally, and the Indian government had acquired a 49% stake in Air India in 1948. Pilots and airport staff needed to know the weather conditions en route to their destinations, and the IMD provided them with the necessary information. (The organisation had supplied similar data to the British Royal Air Force during the colonial era.)

The roadmap for the IMD’s role within the aviation industry was laid out in a section of the Third Five Year Plan, covering the years between 1961 and 1966, titled “Meteorology and Aviation”. The plan proposed the building of workshops and laboratories of the IMD to attain, “self-sufficiency in respect of instruments required for use in meteorological observations.”

The evolution of the importance of meteorology for the state – whether independent Indian or British colonial – is apparent in the changing nomenclature used for the position of head of the IMD. During the 19th century, the head was called the Imperial Meteorological Reporter, signalling a job profile that required only the reporting of weather data. With increased sophistication in the collection of weather data with the use of observatories, the name changed in the 1900s to Director General of Observatories, and finally, once scientists applied physical and mathematical formulae to these observations to make scientific forecasts, the position was renamed in the 1970s to Director General of Meteorology.

The new nation also faced the challenge of reinvigorating the science of meteorology itself, and shape it towards the needs of the people. Mani was perfectly qualified and positioned to help the organisation deepen its scientific bent during its growth.

“We needed standardisation of instruments and Mani was an expert at that,” said Kelkar. He added that she was a “taskmaster and difficult to work with.” Mani, he said, “had her vision, her goals to achieve, there was no scope for slacking.”

Chief among those goals was to ensure that the organisation’s instruments were accurate and of a quality that could withstand weathering without losing their precision. “Back then, these instruments were being imported from the US or Europe at a very high cost,” Kelkar said. But under Mani’s leadership, instrument workshops were opened in Pune and New Delhi, making India one of the few countries in the world to manufacture these instruments. “The in-house production reduced the cost,” Kelkar said.

Mani also ensured that their measurements matched global standards – M Rajeevan, former secretary of the Ministry of Earth Sciences, said that before Mani’s intervention, equipment had to be taken to Davos, Switzerland, for calibration. “It was an expensive exercise to be undertaken by the government then,” he said. “Mani made sure that that cost was reduced.”

KJ Ramesh, a retired IMD head, pointed out that for India to be able to generate its own data was “an achievement from a national image point of view too.” The data “was to be sent to the World Meteorological Organisation, and for a newly independent country like India to manufacture its own equipment and then provide accurate data was a matter of national pride,” he said.

According to Rajeevan, Mani “not only brought in her expertise in instruments, but also developed a work culture that centred around discipline and scientific rigour. Her work did not end with manufacturing these instruments, but after that, ensuring that they continued to give accurate and precise measurements.”

In May, the IMD accurately forecasted Cyclone Tauktae and shared information with other countries in the Indian Ocean region, enabling them to prepare effective responses. Photo: Reuters /Niharika Kulkarni

Mani also paid close attention to theory. Previously, meteorology was largely based on observing and analysing weather patterns. Mani helped introduce principles of physics, such as of thermodynamics, into these analyses, and use them to forecast the behaviour of particles in the atmosphere.

Mani’s particular area of focus was radiation. She helped the department develop methods to make forecasts based on the underlying cause of meteorological phenomena – the heating and cooling of different parts of the earth. Her research, published as the “The Handbook for Solar Radiation Data for India” in 1980, is still used, not just by meteorologists, but also by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, for solar energy projects.

In the 1970s, towards the end of Mani’s career, the meteorological sciences received a boost from two major technological innovations: satellites and supercomputers. “Satellite technology along with the unprecedented calculation power of the supercomputer revolutionised the meteorological sciences,” said Krishna AchutaRao, head of the Centre for Atmospheric Studies at the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi. “Never before did the weatherman have so much and such accurate data, and the power to compute it.”

But it would be some years before this technology reached India. From the 1960s to the 1980s, weather observations were shared with the IMD by the US Satellite TRIOS as it drifted over India twice every 24 hours. In the 1980s, India launched its own satellite programme, the INSAT, putting into orbit a geostationary satellite named INSAT 1B in 1983, and increasing the frequency with which data was transmitted to twice every half hour.

Supercomputers were not easy to procure. In response to India’s nuclear bomb test under Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1974, the United States had placed an embargo on the transfer of supercomputers to India. Up to the 1980s, the IMD had basic computers, unable to analyse large data sets. This began to change when Rajiv Gandhi became the prime minister in 1984. Before joining politics, Gandhi had served as a pilot with Air India, and thus knew the importance of meteorological data.

“Even before he was the Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi used to come to the IMD office for meteorological data,” said KJ Ramesh, a former head of IMD. “Once he became the Prime Minister, he helped us get a supercomputer to make forecasts better.” With Gandhi’s support, in 1988, India procured its first supercomputer, CRAY-XMP14.

India also drew from international developments in meteorological sciences. Prominent among these developments was the research into what is now known as the El Nino Southern Oscillation, the process of sea surface temperature variation over the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean, which affects the climate of the tropical and subtropical regions of the earth.

In fact, early work on the El Nino Southern Oscillation was done by Gilbert Walker, during his tenure as the Director General of Observatories at the IMD between 1904 and 1924. Walker had observed “the swaying of [atmospheric] pressure on a big scale backwards and forwards between the Pacific Ocean and Indian Ocean” and called it the Southern Oscillation. In 1969, a Swedish meteorologist, Jacob Aall Bonnevie Bjerknes identified warm spots in the Eastern Pacific, and linked them to these atmospheric patterns, leading to the understanding of the El Nino Southern Oscillation, as it is known today.

This gave meteorologists a theoretical lens with which to observe and analyse weather phenomena such as the Asian monsoon. As part of a 1978 project called the Monsoon Experiment, scientists from 21 countries sailed in the Indian Ocean and took oceanographic measurements, such as of sea surface temperature, and also carried out upper-air observations to better understand the monsoon currents, and their links to the El Nino oscillation.

Another key shift in Indian meteorology in the decades after independence occurred in the study of cyclones. The historian Biswanath Dash has written of how cyclone warning systems were initially developed in response to the demands of traders after two devastating cyclones hit West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh in 1864, killing 80,000 and 40,000 respectively. “The scale of the impact caused much unrest, especially among the mercantile traders and shipping community and triggered a demand for a cyclone warning service,” Dash wrote in his paper “Science, State and Meteorology in India.”

He noted that the warning system that sent forecasts to officials was tested and improved based on feedback from colonial officers, but that coastal populations, which were worst affected by the cyclones, were not consulted. “Feedback of the general public was neither considered to be an important dimension nor did it form part of the overall IMD’s evaluation framework,” Dash wrote.

This lacuna continued well into independent India. But a series of super cyclones in the 1970s, such as Cyclone Bhola in the Bengal region in 1970 and another super cyclone in 1977, in Andhra Pradesh, jolted the government to improve warning systems and build shelters, where people could seek refuge during the storms.

In the colonial era, cyclone warning systems were developed based on feedback from colonial officers, but coastal populations, which were worst affected, were not consulted. Photo: PTI

The interest in monsoons and the threat of cyclones spurred the growth of independent research organisations in the country. The Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, founded in 1962, was made an autonomous institute in 1971. An English meteorologist, James Lighthill, who was closely associated with Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, broached the idea of setting up an atmospheric sciences program at the institute with the then IMD chief PK Das. The government provided funds for this, and another centre at the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, in 1979. Departments to study atmospheric sciences were also opened at Banaras Hindu University, Aryabhatta Research Institute of Observational Sciences in Uttarakhand, Cochin University of Science & Technology and Pune University.

The government’s favourable attitude, combined with the new technologies of the 1980s, should have taken meteorological sciences in India to new heights. But according to many scientists I spoke to, in the 1990s and the early 2000s, bureaucracy weighed the organisation down, leading to a series of bad monsoon predictions, and a failure to prevent the disaster of the Odisha super cyclone of 1999.

As an example of how the IMD was weighed down by red tape, one former faculty member of IIT Delhi’s Centre for Atmospheric Sciences cited the Storm Surge Model, created by the institute in 1979. This was a computer-based model to predict storm surges during cyclones. The centre, itself a body funded by the IMD, had made a technological breakthrough with the model, but the IMD did not adopt it until the 2000s.

“The attitude of the IMD officials was at best, condescending,” said the former faculty member. “We sent them reports and they sometimes included them in their forecasts, but the general idea was that we were scientists and academics, and did not really know how to do things in a practical way. Instead of getting us onboard with the cyclone forecasting program, they tried to find loopholes and mistakes in our model and storm surge forecasts.”

Bureaucratic short-sightedness was apparent even in the metrics that the IMD chose to measure and communicate. Dash explained that during a cyclone, it is the tidal surge that is responsible for the most number of deaths, but that for most of the IMD’s history, up to the mid 2000s, cyclone warnings gave more importance to wind speeds.

“What does 250 kilometres per hour or 300 kilometres per hour mean?” Dash said. “If I live in a house that’s surrounded by hills, those winds can’t do anything to me. But what can is the tidal surge. How much water will the cyclone bring with it, that’s what I need to know.”

The IMD’s increased bureaucratisation was also evident when it came to the question of adopting new prediction methods. For many decades, scientists would make weather predictions by studying hand-drawn maps of pressure areas, and relying on the memory of similar conditions in the past to forecast likely events. By the end of the 1980s, the supercomputer CRAY-XMP14 made it possible to analyse vast quantities of data and make more accurate forecasts, known as numerical weather predictions.

Numerical predictions were more accurate and had a higher resolution – that is, forecasts were possible for smaller geographical areas. However, though the supercomputer and satellites had made their entry by the late 1980s, the IMD continued to make predictions based on hand-drawn weather maps up to the early 2000s.

“There was a lot of inertia in the IMD,” the IIT faculty member said. “It had become a highly centralised and bureaucratic organisation and it was just not able to absorb the scientific breakthroughs of the seventies and eighties.”

The situation grew so serious that from the late 1980s, up to the 2000s, the weather data that the IMD sent to the World Meteorological Organisation, which is a global repository of weather data, was rejected for its poor quality. According to a former IMD official, the WMO published a report in the late 1990s that specifically said that Indian weather data could not be used because of its poor quality. “This is the difference between Dr Mani’s time and what unfolded in 1990s and 2000s,” the official said. “The culture of scientific rigour that Mani had created, the hard work that she made a part of IMD work culture were all forgotten. Our data was bad, really bad.”

This was despite the fact that the IMD had a system of lateral recruitment in place, to allow scientists to join the department at intermediate positions, along with career bureaucrats who joined through the Union Public Service Commission exam. The latter officials typically knew little or nothing about the meteorological sciences and learnt on the job. But though the lateral positions were in place since the 1970s, they were almost never filled, according to the former IMD official.

It didn’t help that meteorology as a discipline was given little importance in the country outside the government and government-funded institutes. Till recently, the only institutions teaching courses in atmospheric sciences or meteorology were the ones set up in the 1970s. Outside of the IMD, there were no job opportunities for those with expertise in meteorology.

“You have to understand that meteorology, and by extension climate research, has become sexy only in the past decade,” said the former IIT faculty. “Earlier, neither was meteorology a popular course with students of science, nor were there any jobs.”

Historian Sunil Amrith suggested that another factor behind this decline was the shift in global scientific interest towards climate change. Prior to this, major projects that India was involved with were built with international support – the Monsoon Experiment was initiated by the World Meteorological Organisation and the setting up of research centres at places like IIT Delhi and IISc were a result of lobbying by people like James Lighthill. Indian meteorology “kind of goes into decline, partly because of planetary warming,” Amrith said. He added, that increasingly, meteorologists were “not specially interested in the monsoon, but … in global climatic patterns.”

It was only a matter of time before the IMD began to face serious criticism for its out-of-date science, and its poor results. In 1999, the organisation gravely underestimated the severity of a storm in Odisha, realising that it was a super cyclone just two hours before communication networks went down. The cyclone went on to claim more than 10,000 lives. In 2002, the IMD predicted normal rainfall, but the year saw a deficit. “Climate model under fire as rains fail India” a 2002 article in Nature said. “Drought exposes cracks in India’s monsoon model,” Science magazine announced the same year.

In 2005, the IMD stumbled again, ahead of major floods in Mumbai. Twenty-four hours before the floods, the IMD merely predicted that there would be “heavy” rainfall, categorised as rainfall exceeding 12.5 cm. On 26 and 27 July Mumbai was inundated, with its suburb Santa Cruz recording 94.4 cm of rainfall in 24 hours. More than 1,000 people died in the floods.

It was clear that something needed to be done about the state of meteorology in the country.

All these factors played into the decision taken by the Manmohan Singh-led United Progressive Alliance I government to create the new Ministry of Earth Sciences in 2006. The IMD, along with the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology and the National Institute of Ocean Technology, was brought under it.

“By this time, there was an understanding that you couldn’t do meteorology by keeping the land and ocean separate,” Rajeevan said. “The weather is impacted equally by the land conditions and the oceanic conditions. By bringing these institutes, which had been working in isolation, under one roof, we ensured that there was better collaboration and knowledge exchange.”

One of the immediate impacts of this was that the IMD’s budgetary allocations increased. Earlier, as a body under the Department of Science and Technology, the annual budget of IMD was usually between Rs 25 crore and Rs 30 crore – this shot up to an annual figure of around Rs 250 crore. “The decision not only gave IMD funds, but it also showed that the government cared for it,” the retired IMD official said. “Since 1990s, the attitude of the government towards IMD was not good. And how could it be, when they got the predictions wrong. There was bureaucratic interference, but this changed after IMD became a part of Ministry of Earth Sciences.”

The headquarters of the IMD in New Delhi. Under the UPA I government, the department was brought under the newly formed Ministry of Earth Sciences, and its budget was significantly increased. Photo: IMD

The IMD, which had long been averse to sharing weather data outside the organisation, also became more open with its data after this.

Procuring data had earlier been a major problem to anyone interested in studying the weather, since the IMD is the only organisation that has access to historical weather data. One researcher at IIT Delhi told on condition of anonymity that their requests to IMD for sharing weather data would be rejected, with a comment that data could not be shared because it might be misused.

“I am a researcher and I need this data for my research,” they said. “Moreover, how can anyone possibly misuse, say, the weather data of 1975? It’s absurd! And sometime when they gave the data it was on printed paper. Who can use this huge set of data printed on paper?”

But since 2006, IMD has been making its historical weather data public. Starting that year, it made some rainfall data from the past 50 years across 2,500 stations publicly available. In March 2021, the IMD office at Pune launched a data portal that made all IMD weather data from 1900 available to the public, free of cost.

This encouraged private universities, such as Amity University, to set up dedicated atmospheric sciences departments. Earlier, they had lacked the infrastructure to absorb large amounts of data going back hundreds of years. “You have to understand that meteorology wasn’t a popular science for a long time,” said Shishir Dube, a former head of the Centre for Atmospheric Sciences at IIT, Delhi. “The management never thought spending huge sums of money to get supercomputers and servers would get them the return on investment.”

The growing interest in renewable energy also led to more private players investing in generating data, since renewable energy plants, like solar and wind farms, need accurate, customised weather forecasts which are time, area and application specific. “The growth of renewables has created a demand for meteorologists,” AchutaRao said. “A lot of our graduates are being hired by these renewable companies. Not only has it created a job market, it has also led to private players dipping their feet in meteorology, as IMD is not able to provide customised weather forecasts.”

But there is still room for improvement, as was clear recently when the IMD’s prediction for the arrival of the monsoon in Delhi, Haryana and parts of Rajasthan this year proved to be early by two weeks. “What you saw in Delhi this year was that it was raining all around, but this veritable hole emerged over Delhi and adjoining areas, leading to no rain,” AchutaRao said. “Weather prediction is all about macro and micro climate. The macro predictions are higher in accuracy but do not give you a micro climate picture, and the micro predictions are not very accurate. This needs to be worked on.”

Renewable energy projects, whether solar-fuelled or wind-based, require accurate weather forecasts, which has given a boost to meterological sciences in India. Photo: Money Sharma/ AFP

The instability caused by climate change has made the problem more complex. In 2017, the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, which was initially founded as a unit of the IMD, and continues to have its officials on committees, launched a dynamic model for monsoon prediction – that is, one based on real-time simulation of unfolding weather phenomenon. Earlier, the monsoon prediction model was based on statistics, relying on big data from weather observations compiled since the 19th century to make predictions about the weather. But a changing climate means that those statistics cannot be relied on, necessitating a dynamic model.

According to the retired IMD official, the creation of the dynamic model could not have happened in the 1990s. “There was a tendency to keep doing things the way they were happening, without regard to science or reason,” they said. “Now India has both statistical and dynamic models for monsoon prediction, and in the coming future it’ll be completely dependent on dynamic models.”

And, in a development that would no doubt have pleased Anna Mani, scientists are back in the IMD. The lateral entry scientific positions began to be filled from around 2006 onwards, and today there are more than one hundred such scientists who have joined the IMD through the lateral entry process.

But for some time, it seemed like the IMD had forgotten Mani, and the role she played in infusing scientific temper into the organisation. Even though she was responsible for putting in place the IMD’s entire system of observatories and instruments, she did not find a mention in the publication that the organisation brought out in 2000, its 125th year of service. Now, however, the Ministry of Earth Sciences has instituted an award in her name, the Dr Anna Mani National Award for Woman Scientist. It appears that the government is acknowledging Mani’s role in building the field of meteorology in India, even if it is doing so belatedly.

This reporting is made possible with support from Report for the World, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.

Corrections: After Independence, the Indian Bureau of Standards replaced the yard with metres, and not feet. The head of the IMD was initially called the Imperial Meteorological Reporter, and not just Meteorological Reporter. The head was later called the Director General of Meteorology and not the Director General of Meteorological Sciences.