New Delhi: The monsoon is expected to arrive in Kerala on 7 June, six days later than normal, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said on Sunday, but farming experts said the delay would have little impact on the sowing of crops.
The onset of the southwest monsoon in Kerala marks the beginning of the June-to-September rainy season. The monsoon advances to the other parts of the country over the next 30 days.
The monsoon is deemed to have set in only if IMD finds that 60% of the 14 enlisted weather stations in Kerala and Karnataka report rainfall of 2.5 mm or more for two consecutive days after 10 May. There are six other criteria for declaring the onset of the monsoon, including minimum temperature over northwest India and pre-monsoon rainfall peak over the southern peninsula.
There is no established link between the date of the onset of the monsoon and the intensity of rainfall in the country. After two consecutive below-normal monsoon seasons, IMD in April forecast that the monsoon rainfall this year will be 106% of the long-period average, which is above normal, and that there is a 94% probability that the rains will be normal to excess.
The monsoon season is crucial in a country where around 49% of the workforce depends on agriculture for a livelihood and 68% of the population lives in rural areas. Eleven states have declared drought after last year’s failed monsoon that resulted in falling water levels in reservoirs.
This year’s monsoon forecast is being keenly watched. Private forecaster Skymet Weather Services Pvt. Ltd has forecast that the southwest monsoon is likely to arrive a few days earlier than usual over Kerala—between 28 and 30 May.
In 2015, the monsoon arrived on the Kerala coast on 5 June, later than the government forecaster’s predicted date of 30 May. Since 2005, when the IMD starting forecasting onset dates, the monsoon has arrived four to five days before or after the predicted date. The department gives its onset forecast a model error of four days.
“The statistical model forecast suggests that the monsoon onset over Kerala this year is likely to be slightly delayed,” IMD said in a press release on Sunday.
The June-to-September monsoon accounts for more than 70% of the annual rainfall in the country.
“A week’s delay should not have much impact on sowing of crops, and there is also an error margin of three to four days. What is important for crops is that this year, temporal and spatial distribution of rainfall is expected to be good, along with above-normal rainfall,” said N. Chattopadhyay, deputy director general of the agricultural meteorology division at IMD in Pune.
IMD’s prediction of a delay in monsoon arrival comes at a time when the country is in the grip of heatwaves that have claimed scores of lives, especially in Odisha and Telangana. On Sunday, IMD also issued warnings about heatwaves in at least eight states across India.
Experts, however, said Sunday’s forecast was “good news”.
“A week’s delay in monsoon arrival is not likely to have any impact on agriculture. As far as agriculture is concerned the critical months are July and August. So, the good news is that monsoon is going to normal or above normal, which is the swing factor for the economy,” said D.K. Joshi, director and chief economist at Crisil Ltd, a ratings company.
The southwest monsoon irrigates more than half the crop area during the rain-fed Kharif season.
“After deficient monsoon in the last two years, the agriculture sector has not seen growth. This year, however, the broad story of consumption is already building and a good monsoon could drive rural consumption,” added Joshi.
Crisil has projected gross domestic product (GDP) to grow 7.9% in 2016-17 if the monsoon rain is normal.
While 2014 recorded a deficit of 12% compared to the long-period average, this widened to 14% deficit in 2015. One of the primary reasons attributed to the deficient monsoon last year was the 2015-16 El Nino. A climate cycle characterized by an abnormal warming of the Pacific waters, El Nino is usually associated with drought in India.
But global Met agencies have said that the El Nino is now rapidly declining, while chances are increasing of La Nina to develop by the end of monsoon season.
The La Nina weather phenomenon, also known as the anti-El Nino, is associated with higher-than-normal rainfall in India.