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July hope after 3rd-driest June in 100 years

A labourer walks across the bed of the now-dried out Ahmad Sar Lake in Ahmedabad. (AFP)

New Delhi, June 30: India’s rain watchers are counting on 113 years of weather data as they hope for normal rain in July after a 43 per cent deficit during June, the third-driest over the past century.

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) today said the monsoon could advance over northwest India within four days amid concerns that areas already witnessing the monsoon are facing a severe rain deficit.

Over 90 per cent of the country’s landmass has received deficient rainfall during June. The deficits today stood at 26 per cent below normal in the east and the Northeast, 55 per cent below normal in the northwest, 61 per cent below normal in central India, and 37 per cent below normal in the southern peninsula.

“But we’re hoping for a revival of rainfall in July,” said D. Sivananda Pai, director of the long-range forecasting division at the IMD in Pune.

Weather observations over the past century suggest that dramatically poor rainfall in June is typically followed by close-to-average or above-average rain in July, a month critical for crops across the country.

June rainfall fell below the average by 30 per cent or more in 10 years between 1901 and 2013. But except for the years 1905 and 1962, Pai said, July rainfall in these 10 years has been 95 per cent of the average or higher.

“Rainfall for crops is most needed during July and August,” said Nanduri S. Murthy, a senior agrometeorologist at the Govind Ballabh Pant University of Agriculture and Technology in Pantnagar.

Paddy, pigeon peas, sugarcane, maize, soybean and pulses are among the key crops planted across India during the monsoon season.

June rainfall has been 25 per cent below normal in Gangetic Bengal, 32 per cent below normal in Bihar, 31 per cent below normal in Jharkhand, and 56 per cent below normal in Odisha.

Kerala has a deficit of 31 per cent and Gujarat is the worst hit among India’s 35 meteorological subdivisions with a 91 per cent deficit. Sub-Himalayan Bengal and Sikkim is the only subdivision that received above normal rainfall, higher than average by 12 per cent.

In its long-range monsoon forecast issued earlier this year, the IMD predicted that India as a whole would receive 93 per cent rainfall. The forecast also predicted that rainfall would be below average during July (93 per cent) and August (96 per cent).

“What really matters for crops is the distribution and the timing of rainfall,” Murthy said.

Weather scientists have been concerned over a 0.5C rise in sea surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, a phenomenon dubbed El Nino if the sea surface temperatures exceed 1C. El Nino has been linked in the past to poor monsoon rain over India.

Pai told The Telegraph the rise in the sea surface temperatures “doesn’t appear to have influenced the atmosphere yet — when that happens, a feedback effect will cause temperatures to rise even more”.

The Union water resources ministry has said the water stored in 85 key reservoirs across the country is 25 per cent of the total storage capacity of these reservoirs.

But this storage position is 102 per cent of the storage this time last year and 131 per cent of the average storage position over the past decade.

“The present storage position is better than the storage position last year and the average storage (at the end of June) over the past 10 years,” the ministry said in a release on Friday.