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Dry weather alert for granary states in monsoon forecast

New Delhi, June 9: India is likely to receive monsoon rain 7 per cent below the average this summer, the national weather agency said today, raising the spectre of dry weather in the northwestern granary states.

The long-range forecast from the India Meteorological Department (IMD) suggests that this year’s monsoon could pose a challenge to the Narendra Modi government as it gears up to present the Union budget next month.

Rainfall for the country as a whole is likely to be 93 per cent of the long-period average (LPA), the IMD said. The northwest is expected to receive only 85 per cent of the region’s LPA. (See chart)

“This year’s monsoon may be less than normal,” Jitendra Singh, the Union minister of science, technology and the earth sciences, said as he announced the IMD’s updated forecast.

“Implications will happen; we’ll have to prepare ourselves to deal with (them).”

Singh and senior meteorologists said the monsoon’s implications for crops and the economy would depend on how the rainfall is distributed across the country over the next four months.

“Even during good monsoon years, we have some pockets of India that experience drought-like situations,” said Laxman Singh Rathore, IMD director-general.

The IMD had in April predicted that monsoon rainfall this year would be 5 per cent below average. In its revised forecast today, it also predicted the rainfall to be slightly below average in July (93 per cent) and August (96 per cent).

Agro-meteorologists say the rainfall in July and August is critical for farm operations, particularly for transplanting rice. Maize, soybean, pulses and sugarcane are among the other common crops sown across India during the monsoon season.

Weather scientists say the primary concern this year is a 0.5-degree Celsius rise in sea surface temperatures in the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean.

When the rise in sea surface temperatures in the region exceeds 1 degree Celsius, the phenomenon is called El Nino. It has been associated with poor monsoon rainfall over India.

Over the past five decades, the world has had 14 El Nino years, among which India’s monsoon rainfall was below 90 per cent of the LPA during eight years and between 90 and 100 per cent during four years.

India has never received excess rainfall (above 110 per cent of the LPA) during any of the El Nino years.

But El Nino is only one of six distant weather parameters that the IMD uses to forecast the volume of rainfall for the entire four-month monsoon season from June to September.

The other parameters deal with sea surface temperatures, wind patterns and pressure conditions in the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific Oceans.

“El Nino, no doubt, is a very important predictor but the other factors may compensate for its effects,” said D. Sivananda Pai, director of long-range forecasts at the IMD, Pune.

One of the other five parameters, he said, appears tilted against the 2014 monsoon. One is favourable and the remaining three are neutral.

“The year 1997 saw one of the strongest El Ninos ever documented,” Pai said. “But the rainfall over India was near normal at 102 per cent of the average.”