Indian Metereologists Can't Figure Why Monsoon Is Defying El Nino

22/07/2015 4:55 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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SANJAY KANOJIA via Getty Images
An Indian farmer ploughs a paddy field following monsoon rain in Phafamau village near Allahabad on July 7, 2015. AFP PHOTO/ SANJAY KANOJIA (Photo credit should read Sanjay Kanojia/AFP/Getty Images)

NEW DELHI - A searing El Nino was to have sucked the rains out of India, but meteorologists here can't explain why is it raining so much. Rains in north-west India are, as of 21st July, eight percent more than what the region usually gets between June 1 --the onset of the monsoon--and late July.

Moreover the latest forecast from both state and private meteorologists is that beginning this week, a fresh surge of showers is likely to hit India. All of this is good news for Indian agriculture, that benefited from unexpectedly-munificent June rains that replenished India's dams and reservoirs and on the other hand helped agriculture, more than half of which is rain-fed.

However climatologically this is a puzzle that, going ahead, will only complicate attempts to accurately forecast and predict the monsoon.

In 2014, rainfall was lower by 11.9% than the 50-year average and previously too El Nino years have frequently contributed to reduced sowing and food-price inflation.

A report from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on Monday suggested that the ongoing El Nino was especially powerful and well on its way to breaking century-old climate records. For instance land and sea-surface temperatures last month and for the first half of 2015 were the warmest in 136 years of records. Though 4-in-10 El Nino years see normal monsoon, experts say that this year appears particularly intriguing.

"We can't completely understand what is happening," said Madhavan Rajeevan, Director, Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune. Rajeevan leads an ambitious mission of the Ministry of Earth Sciences to use dynamic forecasting--or a data-packed supercomputer-reliant modelling method--to forecast the progress of the monsoon.

Though these models have predicted all India-rainfall in July-the most important of the four monsoon months--to be eight percent below normal, the deficit as of now stands at 7% and is expected to further decrease going by the agency's own forecasts for the week ahead.

Jatin Singh, CEO of Skymet, a private weather forecasting agency holds that a series of global weather conditions have united to protect the Indian monsoon from the El Nino. Key among these are two entities called the Madden Jullian Oscillation (MJO) and the positive-Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) oscillation, both of which are massive , cyclical swings of sea surface temperatures over the Indian Ocean that bring rain to India.

"Beginning today there's a fresh burst of rains thanks to the MJO and the IOD and i expect this to last for a while," said Singh, "and i expect whatever shortfall that we've seen in July, of around eight percent, to be made up by this."

However Singh too says that a deeper reason for good rains, despite such a powerful El Nino, continues to be elusive.

India's worst drought in 37 years in 2009 took place in an El Nino year. Food prices shot up by an annual 20%, leading to persistently high inflation for years. This year, the national weather office has forecasted a 12% deficiency in the monsoon, but Skymet has sharply differed and predicted normal rainfall. Rainfall so far in July has been 7% below normal.

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