A week late, monsoon finally hits Kerala coast
The monsoon arrived in Kerala on Saturday, marking the delayed beginning of a season that millions of people are hoping will end a searing heatwave, irrigate farms and ease a scarcity of water amid what has turned into one of the driest summers the country has seen in years.
Officials of the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said heavy to very heavy showers are expected over Kerala, parts of Tamil Nadu and coastal Karnataka over the next 48 hours, but the progress of rains over the rest of the country could be interrupted by a cyclonic circulation in the southeast Arabian Sea around the Lakshadweep islands.
“There will be a delay of five days to a week in monsoon reaching Central India. A low pressure system is forming over the west coast. Monsoon rains will depend on the progress of this low-pressure system,” said DS Pai, senior scientist at IMD Pune.
The system, the IMD had said earlier in the week and reiterated on Saturday, could sap moisture from the monsoon winds entering the southern peninsula, making rains less likely till at least the third week of June.
The IMD separately warned of heatwave conditions in north and western parts of the country and “severe heatwave” in several places in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra during the next three days. For the national capital, which reeled under scorching heat as well as high humidity, no relief is expected for two days. Officials have asked farmers to hold off on sowing summer crops given the possible delays in rains. “We have already advised farmers who sow Kharif crops like soya bean, cotton and maize in June to delay sowing by 8 to 10 days. We are hoping that crops which are sown in July will not be affected by weak monsoon and delay,” said Mahesh Palawat, vice president (meteorology and climate change) of Skymet, a private forecaster.
Farmers in nearly half of the country depend on the rains to irrigate their fields, and reservoirs that give water to the remaining are depleted.
Key cotton growing states of Maharashtra and Gujarat, which account for 27 of the 91 reservoirs in the country, had storage shortages of 64% and 27% respectively as on Thursday, compared with the 10-year average, according to news agency Reuters.
This year’s delay is being linked to weak El Nino conditions prevailing over equatorial Pacific Ocean. The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) recently said weak El Nino conditions are likely to persist for three more months – which will cover the monsoon season until August. El Nino is a climate pattern characterized by above normal sea surface temperatures over equatorial Pacific Ocean which contributes to above normal land temperatures in the tropical latitudes. El Nino years are linked to below normal monsoon rains and higher than normal frequency of heat waves in India.
Depleting reservoirs have also forced municipalities in places like Chennai, Mumbai and Hyderabad to cut supplies to ensure water lasts until the arrival of the monsoons.
According to WaterAid’s State of the World’s Water 2019 report released in March, a billion people in India live with water scarcity during at least one part of the year.
Monsoon usually sets in over Kerala by June 1. Last year, it arrived on May 29 but the season ended with below normal rains, which were recorded at 93% of the long period average (LPA) – the average of rains recorded in the last 50 years. After the onset, the monsoon advances northwards, usually in surges, and covers the entire country around July 15.
For this year, the IMD has forecast a “near-normal” monsoon season, estimating the rains to be at 96% of the LPA.
While the onset was announced, IMD officials said it did not meet all of the parameters that are must before monsoon arrival can be declared. For example, the key criteria that at least 2.5mm rainfall is recorded for two consecutive days from 60% of the 14 weather stations in Kerala was not met. “Only 7 of the 14 or 50% stations reported more than 2.5 mm rainfall. But other synoptic features like cyclonic circulation, deepening of westerlies were met which is why monsoon has been declared,” said Sunita Devi, senior scientist at IMD.
Skymet however said 14 stations in Kerala, Lakshadweep islands and Coastal Karnataka reported good rainfall on June 6 and 7 fulfilling the criteria of 2.5 mm rainfall.
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