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Forecast lifts cloud of drought

- Rain prediction still grim, uncertainty on crops
A fisherman pulls out his fishing net from the Ganga, swollen in the monsoon, in Allahabad on Tuesday. (AP)

New Delhi, Aug. 12: India’s weather agency has revised its 2014 monsoon forecast downwards, predicting 13 per cent rainfall deficit instead of 7 per cent forecast earlier this year, cautioning that yields of several crops may decline but dismissing fears of a widespread drought.

The India Meteorological Department today said the rainfall during the remaining six weeks of the monsoon season will be much better than over the past two months. But it said the overall rainfall is likely to be 87 per cent of the long period average and not 93 per cent as predicted earlier.

The quantum of rainfall across the country from mid-August through September-end is likely to be 95 per cent of what is usually expected, the IMD said. In contrast, rainfall from June through mid-July was 43 per cent below average.

“The worst is over,” said Laxman Singh Rathore, director-general of the IMD.

But sections of agrometeorologists have cautioned that rainfall deficit this year — despite the gains in rainfall since mid-July — could be expected to impact the yields of coarse cereals, some pulses, and even paddy in some parts of India.

Current atmospheric and monsoon wind conditions suggest that several parts of eastern India will receive good rainfall over the next eight to 10 days, a senior IMD scientist said, adding that the northwestern region is likely to remain largely dry.

In its updated long-range forecast released today, the IMD also issued figures for the rainfall it expects over India’s four regions: 93 per cent over eastern and northeastern India, 89 per cent over central India, 87 per cent over southern peninsula, and 76 per cent in the northwestern states.

While all four regions are expected to receive lower-than-average rainfall, weather scientists say, these forecasts should not be interpreted as prediction for a drought because crop yields will critically depend on how rains are distributed across time and space.

“There is no need for any pessimism,” Jitendra Singh, the minister for science and technology and earth sciences said. “We’re not forecasting any drought now.”

While the 24 per cent deficit rainfall predicted for the northwestern region across Haryana, Punjab and western Uttar Pradesh is close to the 25 per cent cut-off that defines a meteorological drought, Rathore said, most farms in the region rely on irrigation and not on rains.

“Paddy is the largest crop during the rainy season, but we don’t expect any big impact on paddy,” said Rathore, an agrometeorologist. But, he said, yields of coarse cereals such as bajra, ragi, and sorghum may dip slightly. While irrigation networks are widely used to support paddy cultivation in the northwestern states, farmers growing coarse cereals largely depend on rains.

Figures released by the Union agriculture ministry last week show that farmland areas sown with paddy, coarse cereals, pulses, groundnut and sunflower, among other crops ,by mid-July this year were lower than the normal.

Only 221 lakh hectares were under paddy, instead of 240 lakh hectares normally expected by mid-July. Similarly, 67 lakh hectares were under pulses, in contrast to the expected normal of about 82 lakh hectares.

“But we’ve seen accelerated sowing since the revival of rains from mid-July onwards,” said Kamlesh Kumar Singh, a senior agrometeorologist with the IMD, New Delhi. “The area under various crops has grown over the past month.”

The IMD had in June this year predicted that the monsoon would be 93 per cent of the average amid concerns that sea surface temperatures in parts of the Pacific Ocean were rising — a weather phenomenon called El Nino that has been implicated in poor monsoon rainfall over India.

“Several factors influence the monsoon, it’s not El Nino alone,” a senior IMD scientist said. Although the El Nino warming trend is expected to continue, the IMD said, there is only a 50 per cent chance that a weak El Nino would develop in the remaining part of the monsoon season.