On rainy days, friends and family of R Vinod, who lives in Panavalli Panchayat in Alappuzha, do not have to rely on news reports to know how much rainfall their region will receive. Instead, they obtain this information via ‘good morning’ messages that he sends them on WhatsApp. Vinod is perhaps the only private citizen in Kerala to have set up a rain gauge for personal use.
Vinod, who is 55 years old, currently works as a driver in the office of the Chief Engineer (Generation), Kerala State Electricity Board Limited (KSEB), at Moolamattom in Idukki. He has been working in Idukki since 2003. During his long tenure there, seeing an employee of the KSEB measuring the rainfall in the area had piqued his interest. This led him to set up his own private rain gauge in Alappuzha in September 2019, which grabbed people’s attention as the region had been experiencing heavy rainfall since July.
“It was a sheer passion. I had always been curious why rain is measured in millimetres and how it’s measured,” Vinod told TNM. Rainfall is measured for 24 hours, starting from 7 am. “Setting up a rain gauge is simple, it’s a unit that costs Rs 7,000. The rain is measured by collecting rain water of 200 centimetre-square area. There should be a minimum of this square area to set up the gauge,” he said.
From 2007 to 2017, Vinod worked in the dam safety unit in Idukki. “During those ten years I used to go with the engineers while they measured the rain and got the knowledge on how the gauge works during those days. This is a job done by engineers. There are rain gauges set up at scores of points in the catchment area of the Idukki dam. I cleared doubts with an Executive Engineer of the department, and hence am confident of doing this,” he said.
“The official rain gauges measure rain in .22 mm accuracy. But I measure in .11 mm accuracy for convenience. The availability of rain is not even in all districts and is different in even different parts of a taluk. But recently Kerala received almost uniform rain in all districts. On the days when there are heavy rains, I check my measurement with the official one made by the KSEB to check the accuracy, and they are almost the same. On July 29, the rain availability was a whopping 440 mm in 24 hours, which led to waterlogging in our village. This made more people believe in the rain measurement,” Vinod said.
“He has done this because he has experience in Idukki. He doesn’t follow all specifications of the Bureau of Indian Standards. But the rain gauge gets a reasonable reading compared to that of the Indian Meteorological Department, though there are slight variations. It has been a fair attempt to create awareness,” KSEB Executive Engineer (Civil) PN Biju told TNM.
“This has made me more accountable and I now keep record of the measurements so that I can answer people’s queries," he added. Vinod’s ‘good morning’ messages on WhatsApp with rainfall updates began to evoke interest in his friends and acquaintances, who gradually started taking the exercise seriously. Malayalam dailies have reported on Vinod’s rare mission, and the people's response has made him more passionate.
“I never thought this would get wide attention,” he chuckled. Vinod plans to give lessons on how his rain gauge works to children, once schools are reopened.