Sunday, August 24, 2003, Chandigarh, India

National Capital Region--Delhi


M A I N   N E W S

Cherrapunji no longer wettest
Challenge comes from nearby village
A. J. Philip
Tribune News Service

Cherrapunji (Meghalaya), August 23
"The wettest place on earth" as Cherrapunji is advertised may lose that position soon to Mawsynram, a neighbouring village, if the present trend continues.

While the rest of the country received an above-average rainfall this year, the weatherman at Cherrapunji is disappointed that he has not recorded even average rainfall. So far, Cherrapunji has received only 8,800 mm of rainfall against its average of 11,070 mm.

With only four months left for the year to end, the senior officer in charge of the meteorological observatory at Cherrapunji, Mr B.P. Mandal, is doubtful whether he can record an average rainfall this year. Incidentally, Cherrapunji had recorded one of the lowest rainfalls, measured at 8139 mm, in 1986. Even in 2001, the rainfall was a lowly 9,071 mm.

What is more worrisome for Mr Mandal is Cherrapunji's likely loss of its position as the world's wettest place. A ding-dong battle has been on between Cherrapunji and Mawsynram for this honour. Another claimant for the coveted place is Mount Waialeale in Hawaii, USA.

After losing this position to Mawsynram for several years, Cherrapunji was once again declared the world's wettest place when it recorded 12,262 mm of rainfall in 2002 against 11,300 mm recorded at Mawsynram. In the previous four years, it was Mawsynram which had recorded the highest rainfall in the world.

No one else was happier than Mr Mandal when Cherrapunji recovered its lost honour that year. After all, he had been measuring the rainfall at this observatory for closer to a decade.

Meteorologists are not satisfied with the way rainfall data are collected from the two places. In fact, they question the genuineness of the data obtained from Mawsynram.

Unlike Cherrapunji, there is no meteorological office at Mawsynram. Nor are any trained meteorological observers posted at that God-forsaken place. The readings are taken by a peon of the Meghalaya Public Works Department posted there. In other words, measuring the rainfall is a part-time job for him.

No one knows how he measures the rainfall. The manual stipulates that the readings should be taken twice a day. It is at best a conjecture what he does when he leaves the station or is not well. The government has not provided him a substitute. Yet, he has never failed to send the monthly rainfall data to the meteorological office at Cherrapunji!

That he is not scientific can be gauged from his own figures. For instance, in July he recorded 3551.08 mm rainfall at Mawsynram. He has been provided two rain gauges manual and automatic like the ones at Cherrapunji but they cannot measure the rainfall in second decimals. This itself proves that his data are not accurate.

Since the authenticity of the data that come from Mawsynram is questioned, meteorologists consider the whole exercise of comparing the rainfalls in these two places quite meaningless. Ideally, Mawsynram should also have a meteorological observatory like the one at Cherrapunji with qualified staff. Until then there should be no such comparisons, they feel.

It is not the first time that doubts have been expressed by the knowledgeable about the rainfall data. As early as 1850, Joseph Dalton Hooker, a Royal Navy doctor turned naturalist, who spent the monsoon months at Cherrapunji, recorded such variations. "He was puzzled by the curiously localised patterns of rain; move your gauge a few hundred yards and it registered only half as much as before", writes Alexander Frater in his celebrated book, 'Chasing the Monsoon'. If anything this shows that recording the rainfall at Cherrapunji has always been an uphill task for the weatherman.

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