The interest in the monsoon can sometimes be obsessive and is a measure of the extent to which these rains rule the tempo of life in this country. The twists and turns that a rainy season inevitably takes are carefully scrutinised for portends of its outcome. This year, amidst a gloomy economic outlook, with a rupee that has sharply depreciated and prices heading the other way, such concerns are all the greater. Using a statistical model, the India Meteorological Department had predicted in mid-May that the monsoon would set in over Kerala on June 1 with an error bar of four days. So, when the monsoon appeared to be lagging, questions inevitably came to be asked. To the relief of all, the meteorological agency was able to declare on June 5 that the monsoon had at last arrived. The rain-bearing clouds will go on to cover the whole country in the coming weeks, ending the reign of oppressive summer temperatures. The monsoon generally reaches Kerala around June 1. Data for the years from 1901 to 2000 show the onset occurring as early as May 11 (in 1918) and as late as June 18 (in 1972). However, in about half those years the monsoon got in between May 28 and June 5. More importantly, the date of onset says little about how the monsoon will fare. Despite its early arrival, the 1918 monsoon ended in a severe drought. The monsoon of 1983, on the other hand, which sauntered in on June 13, went on to provide the country with ample rain.
Now that the monsoon has come, its progression northwards to cover the rest of the country could well occur in spurts, sometimes moving forward swiftly and at other times dawdling infuriatingly. In every monsoon, rains are not evenly spread either spatially or in time. Some places receive too much rain and get flooded while other parts of the country get too little. Active phases can be interspersed with periods when the rains weaken. Breaks in the monsoon, when large swathes of the country receive little or no rain for prolonged periods, are always worrying. What happens in the Pacific Ocean could have a considerable impact on how this year's monsoon fares. The below average temperatures that prevailed in the equatorial waters of that ocean, known as a La Niña and which is generally beneficial for the Indian monsoon, has dissipated. There is concern that an El Niño, with a warming of the equatorial Pacific that often leads to less rainfall over India, could emerge to take its place. In a recent speech, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee observed that a normal monsoon would help propel an economic recovery for the country. One hopes that this is the sort of monsoon we have this time.
Keywords: monsoon rains