El Nino hampers India’s monsoon
The unpredictable El Niño and how it impacts India
From time immemorial, uncertainty about monsoon has been a matter of great anxiety for the farming community and the administrators. Famines and floods have ravaged the poor peasants with remorseless periodicity. In modern times, with the advanced meteorological tools, superfast computers and satellite imagery, it has been possible to predict and track the onset and progress of the monsoon. This apart, agricultural technology, alert government machinery and efficient communication and transportation infrastructure have made flood and drought management much easier than before. Starvation deaths are a rare phenomenon these days.
However, for an agrarian economy such as India’s, and the large numbers of impoverished farmers make the failure of monsoon a frightening scenario indeed. This is why the farming community, the weather scientists and the government await the onset of monsoon with so great anxiety. Erratic progress of monsoon and excess precipitation cause great hardship.
Only a small portion of India’s farming land has been covered under irrigation. This makes the farmers so hopelessly dependant on timely rains. This year, like any other year, India waited for news about the arrival of monsoon with baited breath. There was another worry that had aggravated the concern. The temperature of the waters of the tropical Pacific Ocean had begun to rise quite abnormally. Moreover, the water underneath the surface water was hotter. Such a condition is considered a precursor of the dreaded El Nino effect. In such condition, the temperature of the surface water in the Pacific Ocean begins to rise. This leads to distortion of the monsoon pattern.
Possibly due to this, the onset of monsoon in Kerala was delayed by five days causing great worries in India. After it hit Kerala, it progressed to the rest of the country rather haltingly. As a consequence, quantum of rainfall went down. Precipitation during June was 43% less than the expected average. This trend continued till the later part of July too.
Quite strangely, the rain god suddenly became generous and rainfall in most parts of the country became copious. The figures for rainfall in July were just about 10% lesser than the normal. Because of this late burst of monsoon, the cumulative shortfall now stands at 22%. Experience and statistical date of the last century show that drought-like situation would prevail because of the erratic precipitation so far. The weather scientists posit that a shortfall of 10% almost results in drought.
The way the conditions in the Pacific Ocean area develop from now onwards will determine the pattern of rainfall in the Indian peninsula. Happily, the intensity of the El Nino effect is not appearing to be as intense as was feared earlier. The warming of the Pacific Ocean water has not been so severe. The shift in wind patterns associated with El Nino has been much less pronounced. Weather scientists have been delighted to notice that the water temperature in Western Pacific has, in fact, dropped to below the average level. However, the eastern Pacific continues to be warmer than normal.
Presently, meteorologists predict that the enfeebled El Nino might worsen in the coming weeks. Usually it has been observed that El Niño results in weak monsoon in the initial stages and reduces the rainfall in September.
The farming community, the government, and the economists are trying to grapple with the possible repercussions of the evolving El Nino. The final shortfall of rainfall is still a matter of speculation. The extent of drought and the distress it causes has to carefully watched and assessed. A big deficit at the end of the season appears unlikely, though.
The poor rains in June and July have already dampened the prospects of a good kharif crop. The shortfall of crop is estimated to be around 14% compared to last year. So, the government must be on its guard to take measures to alleviate the suffering of the poor farmers who suffer the most due to unkind weather.