New Delhi: India’s southwest monsoon that waters about half of the country’s farmland is likely to be near normal this year even as the four-month rainy season may see a weak spell during the remaining two months, according to the country’s weather forecaster.

Precipitation in the four-month rainy season will be close to 89 centimeters, a 50-year average, in the absence of El Nino, K. J. Ramesh, director general of India Meteorological Department, said. The agency had upgraded its forecast in June to 98% of the long-term average from 96% predicted in April. The weather office defines a monsoon as normal when cumulative rain during the period, which generally begins on 1 June, falls between 96% and 104% of the long-term average.

The monsoon is critical to India’s farmers as it accounts for more than 70% of the total annual rainfall and recharges water levels in reservoirs that help irrigate crops. The country recorded normal rainfall last year, after two consecutive years of drought, boosting food grain production to a record high. The prediction follows forecasters in the US and Australia reducing the odds of an El Nino forming this year.

“The monsoon is fairly active so far and it hasn’t taken a break yet," Ramesh said in an interview on Wednesday in New Delhi. Higher sowing of crops shows that the performance of the monsoon is very satisfactory, he said.

Indian farmers planted monsoon crops such as rice, pulses and cotton in 68.53 million hectares (169 million acres) as of 21 July, up 1.8% from a year earlier, according to the agriculture ministry.

Monsoon lull

“The monsoon could take a break definitely in August and some time in September which could last for about a week to 10 days," said Ramesh. “The weakening of monsoon is expected in the northern parts, while the peninsular region should get more rain."

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology said in June that El Nino’s development has stalled and any event is likely to be weak. The US last month lowered its odds for the weather pattern, which often brings dry weather to parts of Asia and Australia.

Rainfall in August is likely to be between 90% and 99% of the average, Ramesh said. Rain has been 5% above normal between 1 June and 26 July, according to the department.

“Most of the rain so far is concentrated over the north, while peninsular India is not getting adequate rain," Ramesh said. “Some cereal crops will be affected in southern region."

The weather department’s monsoon prediction compares with a March forecast of 95% from Skymet Weather Services Pvt., a private forecaster. Rain was 97% of a 50-year average last year, meeting the department’s definition of a normal monsoon. Showers were 14% below the average in 2015 and 12% below the average in 2014, data from the India Meteorological Department show.

“About 15% to 20% area will still remain rain deficient even if monsoon is normal or above normal and that’s in-built characteristics of monsoon," Ramesh said. Bloomberg