IMD says monsoon to be ‘near-normal’ amid weak El Nino
The India Meteorological Department (IMD) has predicted “near normal” southwest monsoon rainfall this year, even as it downplayed the impact of the El Nino weather phenomenon.
The prediction is likely to bring cheer to the agricultural and rural economy, parts of which are reeling under the impact of an agrarian crisis, although this has more to do with low prices for agricultural produce than anything else.
Monsoon rainfall between June and September is likely to be 96% of the Long Period Average (LPA) received during the monsoon months in the 1951-2000 period.
Watch: ‘Near normal monsoon’ predicted by Meteorological Department
M Rajeevan, secretary, ministry of earth sciences, said on Monday: “We are expecting near normal monsoon and a good distribution of rain across the country. The kharif crops will not be affected. Farmers will be happy. It’s good news for farmers on an auspicious day when many states are celebrating their new year.”
Kharif crops are monsoon crops.
IMD’s forecast probability showed that there is a moderate chance of a “below normal” monsoon.
The probability for “deficient” monsoon is 17%, for “below normal”, 32%, for “near normal”, 39%, and for “above normal” 10%.
IMD uses two models to make the monsoon forecast—Statistical Ensemble Forecasting System (SEFS) and the coupled ocean-atmosphere global Climate Forecasting System (CFS).
The SEFS model has predicted 96% of LPA while the CFS model has predicted 94% of LPA which falls under the below normal category.
Officials also said they don’t expect any adverse effects from El Nino, a weather phenomenon characterized by warm ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific ocean. El Nino years usually mean a weak monsoon and more episodes of heat waves in India.
The forecast said: “At present, weak El Nino conditions are prevailing over the equatorial Pacific Ocean. The latest forecasts indicate such conditions are likely to persist during the monsoon season but with reduced intensity in the later part of monsoon.” Experts said a moderate El Nino is persisting which may not weaken before July.
“In June we may see some effects of El Nino, the monsoon may be sluggish in the initial phases but we expect good rains after that,” added Rajeevan.
IMD has renamed the “normal” category of monsoon to “near normal” this year. Till last year, the 96 to 104% of LPA was termed “normal” but in this year’s forecast IMD has termed it “near normal.” “We haven’t changed the definition. It is the normal category. You can take it as normal rains,” said Rajeevan.
“The new category of “near-normal” might create more confusion among people. The situation in India when the rainfall is 96% of the (long period) average is entirely different from (that when it is) 102% -- (they are) tail ends of a very broad category. In terms of public perception, the word “near normal rainfall” will underplay a good rainfall situation, whereas it will overplay a low rainfall situation. It will also make the qualitative comparison of inter-monsoon seasons difficult,” said Akshay Deoras, Phd researcher at the department of Meteorology, University of Reading, UK.
KJ Ramesh, director general of IMD said another reason for expecting a near normal monsoon this year is the neutral Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) but added that there may be a positive IOD during the monsoon season. IOD is characterised by warmer sea surface temperature in the equatorial Indian Ocean and positive IOD conditions are associated with normal monsoons, Ramesh explained.
IMD’S forecast deviates from that of private forecasting company, Skymet Weather. Skymet has predicted a “below normal” monsoon— about 93% of the long period average (LPA) of 887 mm for the four monsoon months. East India along with large parts of Central India will be affected by deficient rains particularly in June and July when El Nino has an effect on the circulation, Skymet meteorologists said.
“We have said there is a 55% chance of below normal rains, 15% chance of drought, 0% chance of above normal rainfall. But IMD has predicted a 10% chance of above normal rains which is nearly impossible in an El Nino year. They have also altered the categories--now below normal is 90% to 96% while near normal is 96 to 104% so 96% falls in both categories. One of their models has forecast 94% of LPA so we don’t see much deviation,” said Mahesh Palawat, vice president (climate and meteorology) at Skymet Weather.
IMD will issue a second updated monsoon forecast with region wise forecast in June.
“The current intensity of El Niño is near-moderate and it has been the same since March 2019. There is no reason to expect the demise of El Niño at least before July. In fact, some climate models are expecting El Niño conditions to continue throughout 2019,” said Deoras.
Both IMD and Skymet couldn’t get the monsoon forecast right for 2018. IMD forecast a normal monsoon of 97% LPA while Skymet forecast 100% of LPA; the monsoon rain received was 91% of LPA.
Skymet forecast a below normal monsoon of 95% of LPA in 2017, IMD forecast 96%; the monsoon rain received was 95% of LPA. In 2016, IMD forecast 106% of LPA and Skymet, 105% . The rains received were 97% of LPA which means both agencies were off the mark.
In 2015, an El Nino year, Skymet predicted 98% of LPA and IMD predicted 93% of LPA; the actual rainfall received was 86% of LPA. In 2014, a drought year, Skymet predicted 91% of LPA while IMD said 88% of LPA. The actual rainfall received was 88% of LPA.
IMPACT ON AGRICULTURE
The rains are critical because nearly half of all Indians depend on a farm-based income and 60% of the country’s net-sown area does not have any form of irrigation. Millions of farmers wait for the rains to begin summer (or monsoon) sowing of major crops, such as rice, sugar, cotton, coarse cereals and oilseeds. Half of India’s farm output comes from summer crops dependent on these rains.
Robust summer rains, which account for 70% of India’s total annual rainfall, spur rural spending on most items and increase demand in other sectors of the economy. Rural sales, for instance, account for about 48% of all motorcycles and 44% of television sets sold annually if the monsoon is normal, according to consumer sales data from the Citibank Research.
Patchy rains tend to stoke food inflation. “If the rains are well distributed, this bodes well for the general economy as well as food prices,” said DK Joshi, chief economist of Crisil Ltd.
For good farm output, the rains have to be not just normal but also evenly spread across states. The monsoon also replenishes 81 nationally-monitored water reservoirs critical for drinking, power and irrigation.
India, still the world’s fastest-growing major economy, saw annual growth slip to 6.6% in the December quarter from 7% in the previous quarter, making this the slowest growth rate in five quarters. Food prices have a 30% weightage in India’s consumer price index. High food prices do not just cloud growth but also pose a political risk.
“A normal monsoon has a positive impact on the overall economy through inter-sectoral relations between agriculture and other sectors, both from the demand and supply side,” said NR Bhanumurthy, an economist with the state-run National Institute of Public Finance and Policy.
Parts of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana and coastal Andhra Pradesh are still reeling from a continuing drought.