Updated: July 5, 2022 9:14:12 am
After an indifferent June that saw the country receive 7.9 per cent below-average rainfall, the southwest monsoon has entered an “active” phase. The timing couldn’t be better, when it’s peak season for sowing kharif crops. The monsoon had set in over Kerala on May 29, three days before its normal onset date. But the rains were irregular. Twenty-four out of the country’s 36 meteorological subdivisions recorded 90 per cent or less of their normal precipitation for June. The absence of easterly winds resulted in much of the South Peninsula, Central and Northwest India getting localised rain at best. On the other hand, winds blowing from the southwest took the monsoon clouds to the Northeast, causing floods and landslides in Assam, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and north Bengal. Not surprisingly, the total kharif planted area till June 24 was almost 24 per cent lower compared to that during the corresponding period of last year.
A dry June needn’t spell disaster though. June 2019 and June 2016 registered 32 per cent and 9.8 per cent rainfall deficiency, respectively — worse than this time’s. Yet, both turned out to be good monsoon and bumper crop years. What really matters are the July and August rains, coinciding with the sowing and vegetative growth stages of the kharif crop. The signs of that seem encouraging for now. Rainfall in the current month has been 27.9 per cent surplus so far, reducing the all-India cumulative deficit since June 1 to just 3.4 per cent. The late pick-up has also brought down the progressive kharif acreage gap over last year to 5.3 per cent. The formation of a low pressure area over north Odisha and strong westerly winds from the Arabian Sea should help sustain the current “active” monsoon conditions. Water levels in major reservoirs being 18.2 per cent higher than their last 10 years’ average for this time is an added source of comfort.
Going forward, a cause for concern is the so-called Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD). Many global weather models suggest a “strong negative” IOD — wherein the eastern Indian Ocean waters off Indonesia and Australia turn unusually warm relative to the western part, increasing rainfall activity there at the expense of the subcontinent — developing by August. That can impact the monsoon’s performance in the second half (August-September) of the season. IOD’s effects should, hopefully, be offset by the prevalence of La Niña conditions (an abnormal cooling of the eastern Pacific waters, generally favourable for the Indian monsoon). Wet July and August is what both producers and consumers of food in India need.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on July 5, 2022, under the title, ‘Monsoon’s turn’.
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