This year, the monsoon has been in rumbustious form. It swept in to Kerala on June 1 and then headed off north with surprising rapidity. So much so that the rain-bearing cloud systems covered the whole country by June 16, a process that is typically completed only by around the middle of next month. Moreover, it has rained copiously. Consequently, about three-quarters of the country have received much more rain than usual. After last year’s poor monsoon, the plentiful rains have aided the planting of this year’s kharif crops, improved water storage in reservoirs and helped recharge badly depleted, underground aquifers. But for Uttarakhand, which in the course of a week was hammered with eightfold more rain than it typically gets, the deluge was too much. Human environmental depredations worsened the resultant flooding and landslides, and poorly managed disaster relief efforts added to the calamity. With this month’s heavy rains, flooding has been reported from other parts of the country too. North-western India has received over twice its usual rain. Although the eastern and north-eastern States are showing deficits, the country as a whole has thus far got 32 per cent more rain than average. It is a far cry from last year, when the countrywide rainfall deficit soared to 50 per cent by mid-June and the month ended with a considerable shortfall.
Good rains this month do not necessarily mean that the rest of the rainy season will be just as bountiful. However, if June ends with surplus rainfall of 20 per cent or more, then, going by the record of past years, there is a good chance that this monsoon could see above average nationwide rainfall for the season as a whole. The updated forecast that the India Meteorological Department released recently was remarkably similar to the one it issued in April: a “normal” monsoon, with countrywide seasonal rainfall between 96 per cent and 104 per cent of the long-period average, had the highest probability of 47 per cent. That was followed by the odds for a “below normal” monsoon, with seasonal rainfall between 90 per cent and 96 per cent of the long-period average. The met agency has also indicated that July, which provides close to one-third of the seasonal rainfall, could see normal or above normal rain; rains in August might be below par. But the monsoon can be capricious and difficult to predict. How sea surface temperatures and atmospheric conditions evolve in the central Pacific Ocean and the equatorial Indian Ocean can strongly influence the rains over India. Hopefully, despite such uncertainties, this monsoon will turn out well.