Let’s hope IMD has got it right

second edit

The Indian Meteorological Department’s (IMD) prediction of a near-normal monsoon for this year has brought some cheer to the nation experiencing high summer temperatures and rising political heat. IMD has pegged the June-September rainfall at 96% of the long-term average. A normal monsoon should help the economy, especially the rural economy, which has seen the failure of the northwest monsoon and deficient rainfall in the last two years. There are drought-like conditions in about 40% of the country, especially in the southern, western and central regions. A normal and well-distributed monsoon is therefore welcome, though there are many reasons other than a poor monsoon for rural distress.  

But IMD’s prediction is at variance with the projections made by private weather agency Skymet and some foreign weather forecasters. Skymet has predicted a below normal rainfall at 93%. The difference is mainly on account of the varying assessments of the impact of the El Nino phenomenon on the monsoon. This phenomenon, caused by the warming of the equatorial Pacific waters, shackles the Indian monsoon. IMD believes that El Nino would weaken by June and may not impact the monsoon from July. Other agencies think that it would last till August. It is likely that it may lead to a slow start for the monsoon and below normal rainfall in the first few weeks. It should also be noted that even according to IMD, the probability of a near-normal monsoon is just 39% while the chances of a below normal monsoon are also high at 31%. IMD’s predictions, especially long-term forecasts, have often gone wrong, though it has improved its data collection and methodologies in the last few years. Even when both IMD and other agencies were found to be wrong, the former has usually been more off the mark. But the national weather agency has performed better in making short to medium term predictions. 

IMD has also predicted that the rainfall will be well distributed this year. The Skymet prediction differs from IMD in this respect, too. IMD, however, will make its detailed forecast of rainfall distribution in terms of time and space only later in the year. That is more important for farmers than the aggregate rainfall all over the country. The monsoon is not as crucial a factor for the national economy as it once was because agriculture now accounts for only about 15% of the GDP. For some years now, even food production has not been greatly affected by deficient rains. But about 50% of the population directly or indirectly depends on agriculture, and that makes the behaviour of the monsoon important. 

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