A man holding an umbrella waits for public transport by the side of a road in Cherrapunji, Meghalaya, India (Photographer: Sanjit Das/Bloomberg)  

IMD Forecasts Normal Monsoon For Third Straight Year

India’s monsoon rains, that water half of the country’s cultivated land, are expected to be normal for the third straight year.

India will receive 97 percent of the long-period average rainfall this year, according to the Indian Meteorological Department. “We feel that India is going to experience a third successive normal monsoon,” KJ Ramesh, director general of meteorology at the IMD said in a media conference. “There is a very less probability of deficit monsoon.”

Between 96 percent and 104 percent of the long-period average is considered a normal monsoon, and the margin of error is 5 percent.

More than 70 percent of India’s yearly rainfall occurs in June to September, making monsoons a key factor for the rural economy as agriculture and allied activities, account for half the employment and contribute 16 percent to the nation’s gross domestic product. That’s according to the annual Economic Survey. A revival in rural consumption is crucial to boost growth after the twin shocks of demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax.

IMD said that it will come out with its next forecast in June and release an assessment of the onset of monsoon in Kerala on May 15.

Last year, India just about managed to receive normal rainfall—95 percent of the long-period average. The distribution was uneven with only the southern states receiving normal rainfall. Rains in east, north east, north west and central India were lower than the long-term average.

The north east has been witnessing a declining trend over the past few years and that’s part of a multi-decade variability, DS Pai, director of long-range forecasting at the IMD, told BloombergQuint. “In most of the other parts, we don’t have a trend that we are observing. We should assume that most parts of the country should get normal rainfall.”

The spatial spread of rainfall will be important to watch out for, according to Madan Sabnavis, chief economist at CARE Ratings. “We have noticed in the past that in case certain geographies do not receive normal monsoon, there could be certain deviation in production for specific crops,” Sabnavis told BloombergQuint.

Assuming the spread is also okay, we should remember that while a good monsoon could lead to good output, it may not translate into a higher income for farmers. 
Madan Sabnavis, Chief Economist, CARE Ratings

Sabnavis said farm income will still depend on the government’s minimum support prices and procurement process. However, in any case a bountiful harvest is good news for both consumer and wholesale inflation. That also means that there is a possibility of “the RBI of taking a different stance on interest rates”, he added.

The La Nina-El Nino Interplay

Monsoons in India are heavily influenced by the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle which is an irregular periodic weather pattern that develops due to variations in ocean temperatures. The two phenomenons involved are El Nino and La Nina.

La Nina is the cool phase of the cycle that strengthens the monsoon and is associated with bringing heavy rains and storms. El Nino, the warm phase, is associated with droughts and low rainfall as it weakens the summer westerly winds that bring the monsoons.

IMD said that La Nina conditions started weakening in the early part of this year and its forecast suggests that ENSO conditions will turn neutral before the start of the monsoon season. “I don't think there will be a role for La Nina or El Nino conditions to play on the monsoon,” Pai said. “Because there is also no probability for El Nino to take place in any part of the monsoon season.”

The probability of India getting deficient rainfall this year, he said, is just 14 percent.

Watch the conversation with IMD director DS Pai here

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