India’s annual monsoon will be normal this year, the Met department said on Tuesday despite lingering possibilities of the disruptive El Nino weather pattern that led to back-to-back drought in 2014 and 2015.
The southwest monsoon is the lifeblood for India’s farm-dependent $2 trillion economy, delivering 70 percent of the country’s annual rainfall and is crucial for an estimated 263 million farmers.
“India is in for a normal monsoon which will be good for agriculture and economy,” KJ Ramesh, the director general of India Meteorological Department, told a news conference. IMD issues another updated forecast in June.
He said rainfall will be 96% of the long-period average with a margin of 5% error. India defines average, or normal, rainfall as between 96 percent and 104 percent of a 50-year average of 89 cm for the entire four-month season.
There is a 38% probability that the monsoon will be better than 96%, he added.
The forecast is critical to the government’s hopes of achieving a projected growth rate of more than 7.5% as a good harvest could lift rural incomes and boost spending on consumer goods.
Two-thirds of India’s population depends on farm income and nearly 60% of summer sown areas do not have assured irrigation. Summer crops account for nearly half of India’s food output, including rice, lentils, sugar, spices, mangoes and oilseeds.
The monsoon rains arrive on the southern tip of Kerala state by around June 1 and retreat from the western state of Rajasthan by September-end.
There are fears that an emerging El Niño could impact monsoon rains. The IMD, however, said a weak El Niño could emerge only towards the later part of the year.
El Nino, or little boy in Spanish, is a weather glitch marked by an abnormal warming of the Pacific, whose effects ripple around the globe. Typically, it cuts rainfall in South Asia, including India, and triggers flooding in western US and South America.
Skymet Weather, a private forecasting agency predicted a weaker than normal monsoon this year, citing the influence of El Niño.
“Even if there is an evolving El Nino it will impact the rainfall patterns,” said Jatin Gandhi of Skymet which has forecast 95% monsoon rain.
“It is the same forecast, different only by a percent,” Gandhi said. “They (IMD) are saying normal with a 38% chance of moving towards near normal, I am saying 95% with a 50% chance of normal.”
“If you are lucky you will hit normal,” Gandhi said.
A US government weather forecaster earlier this month projected the possibility of El Niño developing later this year.
Forecasters in Japan and Australia also see a 40-50 percent chance of the El Nino weather pattern developing later this year.
The IMD has a chequered record when it comes to predicting the monsoon. In the past three years, its initial forecast have consistently overestimated the average rainfall. However, the margin of the error has reduced.
Last year, the IMD predicted 106% of the LPA in April though actual rainfall was 97%.
“We had very good rainfall and good agriculture output (in 2016),” DS Pai, a scientist at IMD, said of last year’s monsoon.
(With agency inputs)