Gains from rains: on monsoon performance

A steady, well-spread monsoon spells good news for farmers and the economy

Updated - July 14, 2020 01:04 am IST

Published - July 14, 2020 12:02 am IST

So far, India appears to be having a good run with the monsoon. As of the most recent data available from the India Meteorological Department (IMD), rainfall during the season has been 14% more than what is usual for this period. The month of June only accounts for about 17% of the monsoon rainfall spanning June-September. It is the month during which the monsoon sets in and that process can sometimes be delayed for as much as a week. June is also when the monsoon begins its journey from two extremities of the country. One branch starts its journey northwards from Kerala and the other wing — called the Bay of Bengal branch — enters India from the southeast. Both branches eventually converge in the north and usually, this merging and strengthening of the monsoon currents over the mainland takes at least until July 15. The IMD never forecasts the possible rainfall likely during June because of the vagaries involved in onset and the pace of the journey. This year, two significant things happened. The monsoon set in at a textbook date of June 1. This was even after concerns that Cyclone Amphan that had ravaged West Bengal would delay the monsoon’s entry into India from the Andaman Sea. The second factor was the record pace at which the monsoon covered the country. Along with the monsoon onset this year, the IMD announced a revision to the onset and withdrawal dates across several cities. According to this, the monsoon covered India’s northern and western borders no later than July 8 as opposed to the previous historical date of July 15. This year, however, the monsoon broke even this speed limit and covered the country by June 25 — at a pace that was unprecedented since 2013.

The net result of all this: more rainy days in June and a fairly even distribution across the country. The IMD’s records show that only on four days in that month did daily rainfall drop below its historical normal. Except for northwest India, which is staring at a 3% deficit, the rainfall in east, south and central India has posted surpluses of 13%-20%. While good rains in June signal farmers to prepare the soil and sow kharif crop, the most important months are July and August. These two months account for two-thirds of the monsoon rain. This is also the time the monsoon goes into so-called ‘break’ conditions. Prolonged breaks, or an absence of rainfall, can even lead to drought. In spite of significant improvements in data gathering and technological advancement, meteorological agencies cannot yet reliably forecast the advent of a break or how long it can last. What is critical is that ‘normal rains’ also obscure the possibility of heavy rains or severe droughts in districts or over larger areas. Therefore, short and medium range forecasts need to be strengthened and effectively communicated to the people.


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