The annual monsoon is expected to hit the Kerala coast on Friday after missing its date once already this season, raising hopes of an end to a brutal heat wave.
Millions of people across the country are desperately waiting for the June-September monsoon which was initially expected to arrive in Kerala on May 30 but the weather office later said it would be delayed by about five days. After drenching south and central India, it is expected to strike the national capital by the end of June.
The Centre has already warned states to formulate contingency plans to deal with the situation as the country stares at its first drought in six years after the India Meteorological Department (IMD) lowered its monsoon forecast for this year.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley sought to allay fears on Thursday over predictions of a deficient monsoon, saying concerns were "misplaced" and rainfall was likely to be deficient in regions with substantial irrigation facilities. “For anybody to draw conclusions on that basis, on either inflation or some kind of distress situation, is far-fetched," Jaitley told reporters. "I don't anticipate any situation of this kind, even with the kind of predictions which have been made."
India has long struggled to accurately predict the arrival and progress of the monsoon, but over the years modern technology has helped improve the art of weather forecasting. Now, officials use modern radars and complicated statistical models aided by super computers and satellite data to predict weather patterns.
Still, the reliability of such forecasts can sometimes be suspect. Getting monsoon forecasts right is essential for millions of farmers who rely on the seasonal rains to water more than half the country’s farmlands.
The monsoon is the lifeline of the Indian economy, with a large chunk of the population making a living from farming. Markets have been jittery since the sparking fears of drought, and Reserve Bank of India governor Raghuram Rajan warned that the biggest uncertainty ahead was the outcome of the annual monsoon.
The Kerala government has alerted local and urban bodies to get ready to face some of the after-effects of the monsoon as the torrential downpour is often followed by epidemics in low-lying areas.
Gushing winds kept fishermen away from sea in Kerala where thousands of people normally throng the coast to catch the first showers of the season. The monsoon is also a cultural mainstay that has inspired poets, musicians, writers and photographers down the years.
Many travellers plan their itinerary around chasing the upward moving clouds. “Our SUV is ready. This time we will have a splashy drive along the picturesque Western Ghats,” said a young techie, Kishen John, who is waiting for the clouds to break.