System of phone alerts could warn of extreme weather in India

Published: Jan. 7, 2014 at 4:41 PM

NEW DELHI, Jan. 7 (UPI) -- Computer scientists in India have created image-based mobile phone alerts for extreme weather they say could prevent casualties in cyclones.

When Cyclone Phailin hit India in late 2013 it was the largest storm to batter the subcontinent in over a decade, affecting more than 12 million people in India and neighboring countries and requiring mass evacuations.

The scale of the evacuations revealed an urgent need for an effective alert system that could forewarn the majority of the population, the scientists said.

A paper published in Atmospheric Science Letters details how the researchers were able to track its genesis, progression and landfall using the country's Weather Research and Forecasting system.

Converting this information into images suitable for phones yielded a forecasting and warning system accessible to ordinary citizens, they said.

"Cyclone alerts can save lives and property, but must be easily accessible," researcher Sat Ghosh said. "The global perception of India's emerging IT prowess is lopsided. It is thought of as merely a manufacturing hub; however, our article puts the country's numerical literacy to practical use."

India has a mobile phone subscriber base exceeding 929 million people, expected to reach 1.15 billion by the end of 2014, so an alert system developed for mobiles could reach an estimated 97 percent of the population, the scientists said.

"The easy-to-use [existing] Weather Research and Forecasting model remains confined to an elite group of users, such as atmospheric scientists and weather forecasters," Ghosh said. "Our research explores how the WRF forecast can be interfaced with mobile telephony which has a deep penetration even in rural pockets of India."

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