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New Delhi: As India faces a monsoon rainfall deficit of 12%, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology on Tuesday said the 2015 El Niño is now the strongest since 1997-98. The temperature anomalies in the tropical Pacific Ocean remain a little more than half a degree below the peak observed during 1997-98, the bureau said in its update.

In the past fortnight, sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies have increased along much of the equator in the eastern to central Pacific and in the northwestern Pacific and all surveyed models indicate that SST indices will remain above El Niño thresholds until at least the start of 2016.

El Niño, a weather phenomenon resulting from warming in Pacific Ocean regions leading to atmospheric changes, is associated with deficient monsoons in India.

The strengthening El Niño was one of the primary factors for the forecast of a deficient monsoon this year by government forecaster India Meteorological Department (IMD). The June-September monsoon season is crucial in India where more than 50% of agricultural land is rain-fed. As of Tuesday, 40% of the country was rain deficient, even as the monsoon is expected to start withdrawing from northwest India this week.

There is an over 90% chance that El Niño will continue through winter 2015-16, and around an 85% chance that it will last into early spring 2016, according to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

After a deficient monsoon forecast by IMD, adequate showers in June had raised hopes of farmers and policymakers. But July and August, which see the bulk of the season’s rainfall, ended with deficits and September is not likely to improve the situation.

“Various models are showing that there will not be much rainfall in September. There may be some rainfall in south peninsula in the next two weeks, but northwest and central India will not receive much rainfall," said N. Chattopadhyay, deputy director general of the agricultural meteorology division at IMD in Pune. “It is going as per IMD forecast," he added.

The areas affected the most are Marathwada, central Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and northern interior Karnataka. Punjab, Haryana and Delhi are facing high deficits as well.

According to an extended range prediction by the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM), the monsoon would have withdrawn from north, northwest and central India by the second week of September. “It is expected that the all-India seasonal rainfall deficiency will further increase in coming weeks," said an update from IITM on Saturday.

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