Shower of hope

The prediction by the India Meteorological Department (IMD) of a normal and well-distributed rainfall in the second half of the monsoon season (August-September), almost similar to that in the first half, seems to have largely quelled the disquiet caused by other weather watchers by projecting sub-par monsoon rainfall this year. The markets have, predictably, reacted positively to the optimistic monsoon outlook. But the past accuracy record of the IMD’s long-range monsoon forecasts, issued normally in April every year, does not inspire much confidence. In the last 17 years since 2001, the weather office’s preliminary predictions have been on the mark on only a couple of occasions though, admittedly, the margin of error has gradually been narrowing, especially since 2010. This is despite perceptible advances in the IMD’s short- and medium-range weather gauging capabilities, thanks to the expansion of data-gathering infrastructure and availability of better-computing facilities.

The major reason for the wide disparity in the monsoon outlook of some foreign and domestic weather agencies vis-à-vis the IMD’s is their perception of the likely adverse impact on the rainfall of some key monsoon-influencing parameters that are threatening to turn unhelpful. The local private weather forecaster, Skymet, too, anticipates below-average rains this year on the assumption that oceanic parameters are at present unfavourable for the monsoon’s progress. It has, consequently, slashed its seasonal rainfall prediction from the earlier 100 per cent of the long-period average to merely 92 per cent, well below normal. The IMD, on the other hand, has stuck to its original stand that the rainfall would be normal or close to that throughout the season. The sharpest contrast in the forecasts by Skymet and the IMD is in the rainfall projections for the current month of August. While Skymet has lowered its estimate drastically from 94 per cent to an abysmal 88 per cent, the IMD, on the contrary, has chosen to hike it from 94 per cent earlier to 96 per cent.

However, regardless of whether the IMD or Skymet proves correct, the chances of any major ill-effect of the monsoon on agriculture or the economy seem quite dim at this stage. Over 80 per cent of the country’s total geographical area has already received normal or above normal rainfall. Part of the rain-deficient region of Bihar, Jharkhand and the Northeast, too, has received some welcome showers in the past few days. Though the pace of kharif sowing has so far been slower than in the last year, the estimated 7.5 per cent lag in crop planting can be made up in the next few weeks since the sowing season is still not over. Besides, the total water stock in the country’s 90-odd major reservoirs has already swelled to about 11 per cent above normal for this time of the year. It should help sustain water supply for crop irrigation and hydel power generation in the post-monsoon dry season as well. Though all these are reassuring factors, the proverbial uncertainties of weather cannot be brushed aside. The ultimate outcome would depend on how the weather pans out between now and the harvesting of crops from October onwards. It would, therefore, be advisable to keep the fingers crossed as yet.