NEW DELHI: The spectre of a second successive drought loomed larger over the country as India’s national weather forecaster on Tuesday significantly downgraded its monsoon prediction, saying it expected the season’s rains to be 88% of average.
This is the bleakest all-India monsoon prediction ever made by the India Meteorological Department (IMD), and the first time since countrywide forecasts began in 1988 that the department has projected a drought year — defined as countrywide rains in the June-September season falling below 90% of the long term average.
Last year’s monsoon too had ended at 88%. Another drought could pose a political challenge for the Centre as it’s expected to raise distress levels in the monsoon-dependent farm sector, already reeling under the double blow of last year’s failed rains and heavy unseasonal showers in March-April this year.
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The forecast also raised doubts about growth and the impact on prices particularly of food items. Rural demand, which has a significant share in overall growth, may be hurt due to the poor rainfall. Experts said prices of pulses and vegetables may witness some pressure while sales of motorcycles and tractors could be hit.
Back-to-back droughts are extremely rare, having occurred only thrice since 1900, the last instance being 1986-87. Deficient rains could also further deplete groundwater resources, which are at critical levels in lots of parts of the country.
IMD’s first long range forecast, issued in April, had predicted a ‘below-normal’ monsoon at 93% of long term average, mainly on account of a developing El Nino — a weather condition in the Pacific Ocean that’s known to weaken the southwest monsoon over India. The El Nino has since grown stronger and is predicted further strengthen during the monsoon season.
‘El Nino effects visible in the form of heatwave’
“El Nino is the major factor for the downgraded monsoon forecast. Its effects are already visible in the form of the ongoing heatwave that has claimed an unprecedented number of lives,” D Sivananda Pai, IMD’s lead monsoon forecaster, told TOI.
IMD no longer uses the term ‘all-India drought’, preferring the phrase ‘deficient rainfall’ to describe monsoon output below 90% of long term average (LPA). It said the all India forecast had an error margin of 4% on either side.
Northwest India, located at the tail-end of the monsoon system, is expected to be hit the hardest. The update said rains are likely to be 85% of LPA in the region. Rainfall is expected to be relatively better in the south at 92% of average while central and northeastern India are likely get 90% rains during the season.
Overall, monsoon is predicted to be 92% of LPA in July and 90% in August, the two main monsoon months in the country. IMD did not release forecasts for June and September.
Pai said conditions in the Indian Ocean too did not favour bountiful monsoon rains. “Monsoon winds are pulled into the subcontinent from the sea because of high temperature difference between the heated land and the cooler seas. Currently, the entire Indian Ocean basin is warmer than usual, which means the monsoon winds could be weaker than normal,” he said.
IMD said there’s a 50% chance that Indian Ocean Dipole, which measures the temperature difference between west and east Indian Ocean waters, would remain neutral during the monsoon season. A positive IOD, when water are warmer in the west, usually favours the monsoon.