The Indian Meteorological Department (IMD) on Friday stuck to its forecast of a “normal” monsoon for this year, as it released the second long-range outlook shortly ahead of the annual phenomenon. The adverse impact of likely El Nino conditions will be offset by positive “Indian Ocean Dipole”, a measure of Indian Ocean surface temperature, the department said.

The IMD’s latest prediction of monsoon rains of 96% of the long-period average (LPA), same as it first said on April 11, allays fears of a rain deficit in the 4-month season (June-September). Rainfall between 96-104% of the LPA is considered “normal”.

Deficient rains and its sparse distributional patterns could have adversely affected the farm sector output, fanned inflation and posed another hurdle to the long-awaited economic recovery. The rains will hit Kerala coast on June 4, the department said, three days later than the usual arrival date of June 1.

Private weather forecasting agency Skymet had earlier said monsoon precipitation this year could be “below normal” at 94% of the LPA.

The Met department’s prediction of normal rainfall was despite it seeing 90% chances of El Nino conditions developing in July and impacting August-September rains. It sees the probability of the country getting “normal” or “excess” rainfall in the range of 43-55%.

“Adverse impact of the El Nino conditions would be largely compensated by positive Indian Ocean Dipole, a parameter which has a positive impact on the monsoon,” DS Pai, senior scientist, IMD, said. Pai said there is no ‘one to one’ relationship between El Nino and monsoon. Of the 15 El Nino years during 1951-2022, six saw normal to above normal rainfall.

The monsoon forecast is subject to a model error of +/-5%.

In terms of regional distribution, the Met department has predicted ‘below normal’ rainfall below 92% of LPA over northwest India region which covers key grain producing states of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.

However, the impact of a monsoon deficit precipitation would be minimal as the states in the northwest have assured irrigation facilities.

The weather agency has predicted normal rainfall over central India, North-East region and south peninsular India at 94-106% of LPA.

“A slightly late onset and below normal rainfall in June 2023 can be mitigated by the seasonally healthy reservoir levels. A normal distribution of rainfall in July 2023 will be critical to ensure timely sowing of kharif crops over the majority of the country,” Aditi Nayar, chief economist, Icra, said.

The prospects of a normal monsoon comes as a relief to the farm sector, which relies on monsoon rainfall for crops grown in over a half of the net cultivated area. Key kharif crops like paddy, tur and soyabean are significantly rain-fed even now, though irrigation has improved significantly in the last two decades.

Adequate monsoon rains also ensure adequate soil moisture for rabi crops like wheat, mustard and chana.

Pai said the monsoon is likely to enter Kerala coast by June 4 as predicted by weather agency earlier. However, the rainfall in June is likely to be ‘below normal’.

IMD classifies ‘normal’ rainfall between 96% and 104% of LPA. Rainfall between 90-95% is considered ‘below normal’ and precipitation below 90% of LPA is termed ‘deficient’.

Rainfall received between 104-110% of benchmark fall in the ‘above normal’ category while volume of rainfall above 110% of LPA is ruled as ‘excess’. The LPA is average rainfall received during 1971-2020 at 87 centimetres.

Meanwhile, the monsoon and foodgrain data for the decade indicate that despite patchy and uneven performance of monsoon rains over the years, its impact on India’s foodgrain production has been marginal.

For instance, monsoon rains were 12% below the benchmark in 2014 while the foodgrain production in the 2014-15 crop year (July-June) declined by 5% to 252 million tons (MT) compared to the previous crop year.

In 2018, monsoon rains were 9% below the normal benchmark, the production of rice, wheat and pulses did not fall in the 2018-19 crop year compared to the previous year.

Currently, a positive factor is that the country’s 146 reservoirs have water levels at a comfortable 23% above the 10-year average.

Stating that demand conditions in the economy remained strong in Q4FY23, Reserve Bank of India governor Shaktikanta Das said on Wednesday: “The IMD says that there is evidence of positive Indian Ocean Dipole which to some extent should be able to neutralize the impact of El Nino , but let us leave that to weather experts. But this is an uncertainty which only time will tell to what extent it affects our economy.”

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