India May Receive Normal Monsoon Rain, Weather Office Says

(Bloomberg) -- India’s southwest monsoon, which waters more than half of the country’s farmland and is crucial for growth in Asia’s third-largest economy, is expected to be normal this year.

Annual rain between June and September is likely to be 97 percent of a 50-year average, the India Meteorological Department said on Monday. The forecast has a margin of error of 5 percent, according to the department. Rainfall between 96 percent to 104 percent of the long-term average is considered normal.

India May Receive Normal Monsoon Rain, Weather Office Says

The monsoon is critical to India’s agriculture as it accounts for more than 70 percent of annual rainfall and recharges water reservoirs that help irrigate crops. It shapes the livelihood of millions and influences inflation. Deficient rain in the country, the world’s second-biggest producer of rice, wheat and sugar and top grower of cotton, often leads to lower crop output and higher imports of commodities like wheat, edible oils and sugar.

“It’s a pre-election year and the first bit of news on the monsoon is positive,” Dharmakirti Joshi, an economist at Crisil Ltd., said by phone. The country’s farm output will also be good if showers during the monsoon season are normally distributed. Prime Minister Narendra Modi faces five state assembly polls this year and the general election in early 2019.

La Nina

The weather department said that weak La Nina conditions are currently prevailing and will likely return to neutral El Nino-Southern Oscillation conditions before the start of the monsoon season. The ENSO-neutral phenomena refers to the absence of El Nino or La Nina.

The forecast of ENSO-neutral conditions along with a “weak negative” Indian Ocean Dipole during the rainy season indicate that the monsoon will be normal, said D. S. Pai, head of the long-range forecasting division of the weather office. In the absence of a negative IOD -- the difference in the surface temperature between western and eastern parts of the sea -- the forecast would have been 100 percent of the long-term average rain, he said.

There is a 42 percent probability of a normal monsoon and a 30 percent chance of below-normal rainfall, the weather office said. There’s a 14 percent possibility of a deficient monsoon, it said.

The weather department’s estimate compares with a prediction of 100 percent of long-term average rainfall by Skymet Weather Services Pvt. The private forecaster puts the chance of above-normal or below-normal rain at 20 percent and sees a 55 percent possibility of a normal monsoon. There is no chance of a drought this year, it said.

Last year’s rainfall was 95 percent of the average, falling under the weather department’s definition of a below normal monsoon. IMD will provide an update on the monsoon’s onset over the southern state of Kerala in mid-May and release its second monsoon forecast in June.

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