Radar at Trou-O-Cerfs nearing completion

Let us not be fooled: even with this latest piece of equipment, nature will still have a superior edge on us

“As I was watching the scenes of the recent floods in Japan and the number of deaths that have taken place, I couldn’t help thinking that there is a limit to which we can fight the elements of nature, whatever be our level of development and the sophistication of the technology at our disposal. After all, the radar at Trou-O-Cerfs comes to us from Japan, which leads in all kinds of modern technology. We would remember the flash floods that took place in Port Louis some years ago, following which the then Director of Meteorological Services had to leave. As if he could have predicted such floods…”


When the launching of works for the new radar of the Meteorological Services to be built at Trou-O-Cerfs was done, we were told that they would take about two years to complete, that is by October 2018 which is now fast approaching.

As regular morning walkers at the crater, my friends and I have lost count of the days and months since the construction started, but yes, it’s been a longish time! And we have been following the progress of the works by the day, through good and lately mostly bad weather, and being thankful that a strip of the road around the perimeter was left out of the fenced working area for us to complete our circumferential walk. Otherwise we would have had to turn back as we approached the site, retrace our steps, and repeat at the other end of the enclosure.

Actually this did happen briefly some weeks ago, when warning was issued that the crane would begin to be dismantled and there was a risk. And we felt great again when the last piece of the crane was whisked off in the giant transport lorry.

So will it or won’t it be ready come this October? According to a technician whom I met last week, a foreigner working on the project, the electrical, etc., are scheduled to be completed by the end of this month. Then, he said, it’s up to the Met guys as to when the radar actually becomes operational. I suppose this means calibrating and testing the equipment, training staff in their use and so on, as is the case for commissioning of similar scientific hardware.

We have been witness to how the team of workers would be assembled in the early morning, briefed by their leader after going through a warming-up routine, and then they would get going. We have practically seen the structure rising up from the ground – almost literally, for the pit dug for laying the foundation was quite deep – floor by floor to the eighth one. And in due course over several days we got to see the giant sphere being unpacked and lifted up to the roof, where it now sits, gleaming white when the sun shines.

There were some ‘ooh-aahs’ when the painting started. To many eyes the blue colour that was being used did not look quite appealing, especially at the beginning. But we could not have a complete view as it were, because of the bulky scaffolding which went all round the building. However, most of it has now been taken down, only the lower floors remaining to be painted. And the overall effect is certainly not as unsightly as we had imagined.

In fact, driving towards Curepipe on the motorway from the Phoenix roundabout a couple of days ago, and luckily the weather being clear and sunny, as I reached the Highlands roundabout area and looked in the direction of Trou-O-Cerfs I was overjoyed to see the tall radar tower with its dome a milky white shining in the sun. And the sky blue colour laid out in two tones looked to me to be just the right choice for such a structure. It matched perfectly the overlying vast canopy of the blue sky with some fluffy clouds floating about, and the word majestic would not be an exaggeration to describe what I was admiring from a distance.

Thank goodness, I told myself, something at least to redeem the ugliness of the town, which alas is undeniable. The horror that the environs of the town hall have become, not to speak of the town hall itself – forever needing renovations, each one obviously costlier! –, is a matter of sadness and shame to me, as I reminisced about the days far back in my boyhood and adolescence when I used to come with my father on Sundays and listen to the Veeramundar Band performing on the lawns.

Later when I was in HSC at the Royal College Curepipe, I and a classmate living not far from there would spend some very pleasant moments sitting on the bench by the lakeside, its back lying against a statue of the poet Toulet – discussing our future plans over a couple of furtive Matinee cigarettes: 7 cents apiece, when our pocket money was 15-25 cents daily! He, an engineer in the making and I dreaming to be a doctor, though we did not have the foggiest idea how our future would unfold as regards our career choices. Happily, we both made it, and over these nearly six decades we have kept in touch though he is in the UK, but visits periodically.

As I was watching the scenes of the recent floods in Japan and the number of deaths that have taken place, I couldn’t help thinking that there is a limit to which we can fight the elements of nature, whatever be our level of development and the sophistication of the technology at our disposal. After all, the radar at Trou-O-Cerfs comes to us from Japan, which leads in all kinds of modern technology. We would remember the flash floods that took place in Port Louis some years ago, following which the then Director of Meteorological Services had to leave.

As if he could have predicted such floods. So let us not be fooled: even with this latest piece of equipment, nature will still have a superior edge on us. Yes the radar will help us to increase the accuracy of the forecasts, but to think that all weather and climate-related dangers will be averted will be only a reflection of the local political naivete if not rank ignorance.

So let us not have unrealistic expectations about technology: it, too, can only go so far. And it can also go haywire – say, akin to having bit of a mind of its own: develop a glitch, or not go according to programme: witness the fears about Artificial Intelligence. Anyone with a modicum of scientific interest if not knowledge will know that all projections are only probabilities – they factor in only variables that are known, and that can be measured. But then, even known variables can fluctuate from moment to moment, and upset all earlier calculations.

In the case of the weather, according to the experts, a seemingly minor variation of half degree in the ambient temperature can make a big difference in the behaviour of a cyclone for example. Decision makers should be aware of such things; if they are not, they should at least take care to learn a little so as to be better at their job.

And then there are the unknown variables. That is why we have to continue learning and be up to date as knowledge keeps advancing. As it does so, its frontiers will ever recede, raising even more questions than providing answers, and leaving us always with a degree of uncertainty in every discipline.

As we contemplate the beauty that this latest gadget at Trou-O-Cerfs is, let us remember this apt saying that a late gynaecologist senior colleague used to cite often: ‘La plus belle femme du monde ne peut offrir que ce qu’elle a!’(‘After all, the most beautiful woman can offer no more than what she has!)

 


* Published in print edition on 13 July 2018

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