Private weather forecaster Skymet Weather has reiterated its prediction of a below-normal monsoon this year, and given the significance of this at a time when farmers in many parts of the country are already in the grip of an agrarian crisis, all eyes are now on the India Meteorological Department or IMD which will release its own update later this month. On Tuesday, Skymet said the monsoon will set in over Kerala on June 4 and that monsoon rains will be below normal at 93% of the Long period Average or LPA. It added that all four regions of the country will see below normal rains, especially in June and the first half of July. Skymet Weather’s monsoon forecast may have serious implications for agriculture because pre-monsoon rainfall was 21% below the long period average of 82.5mm between March 1 and May 8, according to IMD.North-west India with a deficit of 37% and peninsular India with a deficit of 39% are the worst affected. The soil is dry in these regions, and a below normal monsoon is likely to make it even more difficult for farmers who will begin sowing of kharif (or monsoon) crops in June. The monsoon usually sets in over Kerala by June 1. Last year, it did so on May 29. The monsoon then advances northwards, usually in surges, and covers the entire country around July 15. In 2017, the monsoon set in over Kerala on May 30. IMD is likely to announce its own monsoon onset date on Wednesday. On April 3, Skymet Weather forecast below-normal monsoon, but on April 15, IMD forecast that there would be a “near normal” monsoon at 96% of LPA.M Rajeevan, secretary, ministry of earth sciences (MoES), said at the time that the department expects a good distribution of rainfall across the country. IMD’s forecast probability however showed a moderate chance of a “below normal” monsoon (32%). The probability for “deficient” monsoon was 17%, “near normal”, 39%, and for “above normal”, 10%. Rainfall between 96% and 104% of LPA is considered normal, below-normal is 90-96% of rainfall , while below 90% is characterised as deficit.On Tuesday, Skymet Weather’s regional analysis suggested that monsoon rains over east and north-east India will be 92% of LPA, north-west India, 96%, central India, 91%, and the southern peninsula, 95%. “All the four regions are going to witness lower-than-normal rainfall this season. It seems that the initial advancement of the monsoon over Peninsular India will be slow,” said Jatin Singh, managing director, Skymet Weather. IMD officials said they will issue an updated forecast in the latter part of the month and once again dismissed threat from the El Nino effect. “Weak El Nino conditions are persisting but it hasn’t gained strength, so our observations on its impact on monsoon are still valid. But a detailed assessment will be released later this month,” said KG Ramesh, IMD’s director general. El Nino is a weather phenomenon characterised by warm ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. In El Nino years, the monsoon is usually weak and more episodes of heat waves are recorded in India. DS Pai, senior scientist at IMD, Pune, said “Some of our models are showing that the El Nino conditions will weaken to neutral during monsoon, while some are showing that they may persist through the monsoon. We are, however, not expecting any major impact on monsoon rainfall due to this. We will announce our forecast update soon.”Vidarbha, Marathwada, north interior Karnataka, Telengana, south-west Madhya Pradesh in central India; Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal in the east will be worst affected by below normal rains, according to Mahesh Palawat, vice president (meteorology and climate change), Skymet Weather. Palawat also said that June 4 can be considered normal onset for the monsoon. “Three days after June 1 is considered normal onset. There is an 80% probability of El Nino conditions persisting during the commencement of monsoon and a 50% probability of El Nino conditions persisting in the latter part of July. So we are expecting slow advancement and below normal monsoon in the beginning of the season, but it will recover in August.”The monsoon forecast is critical because at least 700 million people in India depend, directly or indirectly, on agriculture for a livelihood. And the health of the agricultural economy shapes the health of the rural economy.