The southwest monsoon this time has turned out a reasonably good one so far, contrary to fears of weakening rainfall activity from a possible El Nino event developing in the second half of the season.
The country as a whole has, as on August 22, cumulatively received an area-weighted average rainfall of 605 mm during the current monsoon season from June 1. This is only 6.5 per cent below the historical long period average of 647.3 mm, which is well within the “normal” departure range of 10 per cent on either side.
Moreover, as the accompanying table shows, the rains have been normal in all the three months of the season so far, making it as good a monsoon as in 2016 and 2017. Also, much of the country — barring Bihar, Jharkhand and the North-East states — received enough rains for farmers to take up kharif sowing operations. Some areas such as Marathwada, North Karnataka, Saurashtra-Kutch and North Gujarat have experienced dry spells, affecting crop growth at the vegetative growth phase, but the situation is nowhere as serious as it was during the drought years of 2014 and 2015.
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology (ABM) and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have forecast an El Nino event — the abnormal warming of the equatorial Pacific Ocean Waters, seen to adversely impact the monsoon rains in India — to take place this year. But that looks likely to happen well after the monsoon season.
The ABM, in its latest assessment, has concluded that the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) is “currently neutral”, with the warming thresholds expected to reach “by the end of the year”. The NOAA, likewise, sees ENSO-neutral conditions to prevail through July-September, “with El Nino favoured thereafter”.
Simply put, the chances of El Nino striking during the monsoon season (June-September) look remote. Even if it strikes, the adverse impact of the event is always felt with a lag. Fears expressed by private forecasters like Skymet — which has predicted rainfall during the second-half (August-September) to be poor because of El Nino — seems overblown.
As things stand, 2018 is set to be yet another year, when the India Meteorological Department (IMD) has got its forecast right. The official weather agency had correctly predicted below-normal monsoons in 2014 and 2015 and normal rainfall in 2016 and 2017. If the IMD’s forecast of a third successive normal monsoon is vindicated, that would also be a matter of relief for the Narendra Modi government. The current floods in Kerala are not as threatening in an election year, as the now-remote prospect of a 2014 or 2015-like drought.