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Weather seer predicts normal rains

New Delhi, April 20: The Met department has forecast a normal monsoon this year.

Its predictions are, however, not always on the mark ' in 2003, there was a surplus, and last year, the monsoon was less than expected.

In its preliminary forecast for this year, the department has predicted 98 per cent rainfall for the country between June and September. It also said there is a 75 per cent probability that seasonal rainfall would be near normal for the country as a whole.

'It is the most difficult task for the IMD,' Union science and technology minister Kapil Sibal said while releasing the long-range forecast for 2005 today.

In an unusual departure from tradition, it was the minister rather than the director-general of the Met department who released the forecast, perhaps, to lend credibility.

'We expect 98 per cent rainfall during the June-September monsoon period with a plus-5 per cent and a minus-5 per cent margin of error on both sides. The forecast is that it is going to be a normal monsoon but there are several caveats. A firm prediction will only be possible in June-end,' the minister said.

When it comes to predicting monsoons, 2003 is considered a good year as the actual rainfall was 102 per cent of the department's forecast for average rainfall.

But in 2004, the forecasts were a failure as El Nino ' the gradual warming of sea surface temperatures in the eastern Pacific Ocean which is known to adversely affect Indian monsoon behaviour ' suddenly appeared in July.

As July is the month when kharif crops like paddy, cotton and oilseeds are sown, the failure of the monsoon affects overall production.

Keeping this in mind, the Met department, Sibal said, will release a special forecast for the crucial month. This will be released in June, the minister added.

Met officials said El Nino held sway from July to end-December, 2004, after which the sea surface temperatures started dropping. In an optimistic sign of a good monsoon this year, the forecast for 2005 suggests that this cooling will prevail for the next three months and might continue well into the monsoon months.

To improve accuracy of forecasts, the Met department has started a collaborative project with the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, to develop a dynamic prediction system. This system was implemented in 2004 at the National Climate Centre in Pune but is still considered to be in an experimental stage. In the long term, the model is expected to generate forecasts for specific regions of the country.

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