Betting on the retreat
India's second consecutive monsoon failure raises many scientific challenges
On September 4,from somewhere in west Rajasthan, the monsoon started retreating ahead of its scheduled time. In its wake,it leaves behind an agrarian country that is predominantly rain-fed with deficit rainfall for the second consecutive year. India’s 1,000-odd weather scientists tracking and researching the monsoon are left grappling with a phenomenon that becomes more elusive the more they learn about it.
Arguably,the current monsoon has turned out to be the most keenly observed in recent history. Starting from January this year,weird weather conditions have persisted in the country,ravaging farms of 15 million people across 16 states. In April, the India Meteorological Department (imd) gave another shock: it predicted a deficit monsoon. At the same time, a private weather forecaster gave a contradictory forecast of surplus monsoon.It turned out to be a test of scientific ability to do something that is considered the toughest challenge: forecasting the monsoon.
This is the first time after 1986-87 that India is facing a deficit monsoon that covers nearly all ecosystems in the country. Going by the recent assessment of imd,the current monsoon was deficit by over 13 per cent till the end of August. An early retreat by the monsoon means there will not be much scope for bridging this gap. Last year, the monsoon was 12 per cent below normal. If a monsoon is at least 10 per cent below the long-range average rainfall it is considered a drought year. imd officials say that the current deficit would be a bit more than the 10 per cent it forecasted at the beginning of the season.
By September 4,imd assessed that 40 per cent of India’s total districts experienced deficit monsoon, ranging from 20 per cent to 90 per cent. Of these districts,close to 60 per cent have been experiencing crop losses consecutively for the last eight to nine years due to unseasonal rains and deficit monsoons.
Low rainfall has affected reservoir levels in many places, affecting irrigation and power generation. Some reservoirs also provide drinking water to citizens. The Central Water Commission, a technical wing of the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation, monitors the live storage status of 91 reservoirs of the country every week.The live storage of a reservoir is defined