Global meteorological agencies have sharply increased the likelihood of an El Niño weather pattern this year, which can shake up global weather and trigger a poor monsoon in India, potentially posing an immediate challenge for a new government set to take office in May.
El Niño, literally “little boy” in Spanish, is a climate glitch marked by higher sea-surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific. Its effects can ripple globally, from torrential storms in California to droughts in Australia and India.
The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has increased the odds of an El Niño to higher than 50%, while the Australian Meteorological Bureau sees more than a 70% chance.
The India Meteorological Department, which will unveil its monsoon forecast later in April, said it was “aware” of the predictions. “We obviously take into account such developments,” said S Sivananda Pai, India’s chief monsoon forecaster.
The Indian monsoon season typically begins in June and ends in September.
Historical data from a 126-year period (1880-2005) show less than half of El Nino events have impacted India’s monsoon.
In 1997, one of the strongest El Nino years, rainfall was quite normal. Yet, in 2009, an El Nino triggered India’s worst drought in three decades, sending food inflation to an 11-year high of nearly 20% in December that year.
“Given current high buffer stocks (of foodgrains), the new government has a lot of room to reduce inflation to more sustainable levels even if there is lower-than-normal rainfall because of developing EL Nino conditions,” said Nischal Maheshwari, an economist with Edelweiss.
High food prices will limit chances of the Reserve Bank to lower interest rates, necessary for improved industrial output, as businesses rely on credit. They can also slowdown broader economic recovery from the current “stagflation-like” state of stagnant growth and high inflation.