Neither rainfall nor its intensity has increased

Dear Editor,

I am in a position to do more than agree with Charles Ceres (‘Engineers giving poor service to projects’, SN March 19, 2012) where he says that the country is experiencing no more rain than in the past. I have actually done an analysis of the historical data of daily rainfall at the Botanic Gardens and can establish that neither the rainfall nor its intensity has increased.

The statistical distributions are all very close, but the distribution for the years 2002-2009 lies between those of 1882-1889 and 1891-1898 for 96% of the 8 years’ data sets. The (daily) rainfall intensities are also insignificantly different. 1882-1889 contain the lowest year of rainfall; 1891-1898 contain the 2nd and 3rd highest rainfall years; and 2002-2009 contain the 4th and 5th highest rainfall years. I am sure the people living in those earlier years were just as curious about the vagaries of the weather as we are today. What is different is that there are more of us now with increased means of communication.

Please allow me to put in a good word for the Hydrometeorological Service of the Ministry of Agriculture. It is my studied opinion that they are woefully understaffed to carry out their mandate. For example, there is only one meteorologist, who happens to be the very last graduate from the UG Dept. of Physics. He has to work with technicians and trainees who are paid very low salaries. Despite significant improvements in equipment and infrastructure under the former Minister of Agriculture, there still remains the shortage of qualified personnel.

It has also often recently been the complaint that the Doppler Weather Radar is not benefitting us at all. However, accurate forecasts with it require similar installations in the usual direction the weather comes from. Suriname and French Guiana have no such equipment, and there is none in the Atlantic east of us. Venezuela and the Eastern Caribbean, which are all west of us, would benefit more from our data. The weather would be upon us with little (400 km) warning. We are their warning: somebody has to be at the end of the line, at least until it encircles the globe.
With this in mind I have been working on long range (months, years) weather forecasting for the country (about Georgetown). This was a public service, with data provided by authority of the Chief Hydromet Officer. Last September I presented a seminar and five technical movies to use as tools for training in long range forecasting. It was then that it really came home to me that only the Chief, the meteorologist, and the two hydrologists (all UG graduates with post-grad qualifications from overseas universities) could understand the (Fourier, wavelet and statistical) analyses. However, the movies were so made they could be used without knowing the mathematical details of their composition and are eminently suitable for training local forecasters using our own historical data.

This brings me to another point of national interest. I find myself expending efforts in mathematics for free because there is no political will to allocate finance to such endeavours. The alternative is to be surrounded by a sea of data without a filter to drink it even when there is a bucket to fetch it.

In March last year you published a letter where I said, “My concern is for the continued lack of appreciation for the transmission and development of mathematical thinking in this country. These are the skills on which civilizations are founded in the long term.” Since then, I was happy to see the Ministry of Education advertise in August 2011 for someone to write and deliver a course in Mathematical Thinking for teachers. I expressed an interest and provided short and long term options. Since there are only a few professed mathematicians about, it was no coincidence that I also know the other person who applied. We are both still awaiting an answer.

If they are waiting on fulfilling the ‘conditionalities’ of overseas funding, I submit that the matter is urgent and that it should be treated as a priority with our own money, and with people who know what the score is in our own country. Let mathematical thinking be rewarded and be seen to be rewarding.

Yours faithfully,
Alfred Bhulai

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