Radio Monsoon: This project provides crucial weather updates to fisherfolk in Kerala

Radio Monsoon, a project run by the University of Sussex, provides weather updates by clubbing inputs from forecasting agencies and the traditional knowledge of the fisherfolk.
Fisherfolk near fishing boats preparing to venture into the sea
Fisherfolk near fishing boats preparing to venture into the sea
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Ask about Radio Monsoon, and 56-year-old Alphonse and 27-year-old Dennis start to talk excitedly. For them, the service delivered by the weather information provider is immense and crucial. “From information about the shift in wind direction, the time at which the shift might happen, wind speed... for all this, we rely on Radio Monsoon,” Alphonse, a fisherman from Puthiyathura, a coastal village in Thiruvananthapuram, tells TNM. Radio Monsoon, a project run by UK’s University of Sussex, provides weather information gathered in association with various weather forecasting agencies and climate scientists. The traditional knowledge of the local fishermen is also considered for the forecast in the case of extreme weather deviations. Radio Monsoon has been a part of the lives of the fisherfolk in Thiruvananthapuram for the past four years.

“We never used to get any of the alerts sent by the government. Earlier one of us would read the newspaper and tell everyone if there were any deviations from the normal weather. With Radio Monsoon, now we know the direction of the wind, whether it is in a western or eastern direction, and the wind speed. We would then keep away from that direction to be safe,” Alphonse says. “With the Radio Monsoon alerts, we now have information on how many kilometres we can venture off the coast into the sea,” says Dennis, who is a native of Karimkulam. Both Alphonse and Dennis, who fish on country boats, have been regularly receiving weather updates for the past two years. Like scores of other fishermen in the coastal regions of Thiruvananthapuram, they are also part of the Radio Monsoon WhatsApp group and receive daily weather updates and alerts. With Radio Monsoon filling the gap, fishermen from Kollam to Kanyakumari, a distance of nearly 153 km, are benefitted.

Radio Monsoon prepares the daily weather forecast using predictions from the India Meteorological Department (IMD), INCOIS (Indian National Centre for Ocean Information Services), NCMRWF (National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting), the Kerala Disaster Management Authority, and the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Madras. It also uses inputs from the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts.

After Ockhi, weather warnings vital

Radio Monsoon began in 2014 as a part of an innovation project of the University of Sussex. By 2018, it began providing weather alerts for fisherfolk. Apart from the WhatsApp group, the alerts are regularly published on the Radio Monsoon website as an audio message, as well as on Twitter and Facebook. However, communication is mostly through the phone number provided on the website which fisherfolk can call to get information on the daily weather conditions. “On an average, we get 100-150 calls per day from fishermen based in the coastal regions of Thiruvananthapuram. There is a gap in the forecast provided by government agencies in reaching the fishermen,” Sindhu Mariya Napoleon, weather reporter and Radio Monsoon Station Manager, tells TNM.

Sindhu, the daughter of a fisherman from Pulluvila, is now also a research assistant at the University of Sussex. Weather information and warnings have become much more vital for the fisherfolk post Cyclone Ockhi, in which scores of fishermen from the coastal region in Thiruvananthapuram lost their lives in 2017. Since then, people in the coastal regions have been more worried about the weather changes for fear of losing their lives.

“Post Ockhi, alerts about extreme weather conditions are announced from the police station and the church through loudspeakers. But what made us rely on Radio Monsoon is that they did a study here in the coastal regions,” Alphonse explains. Radio Monsoon provides the daily alert by 2 pm before the fisherfolk venture into the sea. Some of them set out to sea by 2.30 pm while others start in the evening. The name Radio Monsoon is derived from a trust of the same name, which has been functioning at Puthukurichi, a place located near Kazhakuttam in the district.

The Radio Monsoon team

The project aims to upgrade Radio Monsoon as a radio station for the coastal people, and for this, various storytelling segments have been added to its website. Radio Monsoon now has segments on INCOIS Maps, in which people can listen to weather predictions for the coming week and learn about traditions and unknown stories from the coastal region. “The Radio Monsoon Trust used to give information on weather conditions locally to fishermen long back. The University of Sussex, as a part of an inter-disciplinary study, had a project named Forecasting for Fishers. After Ockhi struck, it became clear that lack of proper weather warning had increased the impact of the cyclone for the fisherfolk. After that, the project began to provide weather updates by clubbing inputs from weather forecasting agencies with that of the traditional knowledge of the fishermen. For this, the university associated with the Radio Monsoon Trust,” Sindhu says.

INCOIS sends daily data on the direction and speed of wind in regions from Edava near Kollam, the neighbouring district, to Poovar. This data is converted to a text by Sindhu and weather analyst Kishore Clement. “We talk to fishermen almost on a daily basis, on what is their prediction for the day, if the agencies predict extreme weather deviations and when the weather condition is crucial. We then discuss with an internal panel and prepare the text to be sent as alert to the fishermen. During the monsoon, we put in extra effort,” Sindhu adds.

“While I get queries on the weather conditions from people I know, the beneficiaries of that information will be many more people,” Kishore says. A B Tech graduate, Kishore is also a fisherman who hails from Poovar. Dr Abhilash of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the Cochin University of Science and Technology helps the Radio Monsoon team with images, graphs and gifs.

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