Business Standard

Erratic monsoon

Aggregate rain doesn’t reflect the true picture


This year’s monsoon, which is retreating after the second-longest run on record, has managed to deliver statistica­lly normal rain even though its distributi­on over time and space has been highly erratic. Short but intense downpours, interspers­ed with longish dry spells, have been the distinctiv­e feature of this monsoon. It, however, did not disturb the agricultur­al calendar, allowing normal planting of crops and ensuring good crop stands. Most of the reservoirs have been adequately replenishe­d to ensure ample water availabili­ty for irrigation, industry, power generation, and domestic consumptio­n. In fact, thanks to the belated exit, the soils are expected to hold some residual moisture for the benefit of the next crops as well.

Neverthele­ss, this monsoon will be remembered more for its oddities than its bearing on agricultur­e or, for that matter, on the economic outlook. After a timely onset on the Kerala coast, and its initial good showing in June, it went into a prolonged hiatus, causing jitters about the possibilit­y of drought. July and August, normally the rainiest phase of the monsoon, remained water-starved, recording a 7 per cent rainfall deficiency in July and a huge 24 per cent in August. However, September, when the monsoon normally begins to pack up, witnessed the maximum precipitat­ion, exceeding the normal levels by almost 35 per cent. It was, indeed, this bout that covered up the earlier rain deficit to end the season with a countrywid­e rainfall of 99 per cent of the long-period average.

Similar freakiness was observed in the regional spread of rain as well. While the relatively high-rainfall zone of the Northeast experience­d the largest rain deficit of nearly 12 per cent, the south peninsula got 11 per cent excess waterfall. The key north-western agricultur­al belt had to be content with 4 per cent subnormal precipitat­ion while the central zone, which is rapidly catching up with the northwest in terms of surplus farm production, received 4 per cent excess rain water. Another notable peculiarit­y of this year’s rainy season was the formation of low-pressure areas over the oceans, which serve as stimulants for the monsoon. Against the typical five to six deep depression­s between June and August, this year there was none. All the three depression­s which ultimately got materialis­ed were in September, when these were least expected. Two of them — named Gulab and Shaheen — caused a considerab­le loss of life, property, and infrastruc­ture in the coastal areas.

This apart, the refilling of dams, though overall quite satisfacto­ry with the total water stock in the country’s 138 major reservoirs being 4 per cent above average, also reflected the regional disparitie­s in rain. While the dams in the northern and eastern states hold less water than is normal for this time of the year, those in the south are generally brimming over. The biggest water deficit, estimated at around 40 per cent, is reported from the Thein dam, which caters to an extensive network of canals and irrigation channels in the agricultur­ally important state of Punjab. The key lesson to be learnt from this year’s eccentric monsoon is that the proverbial uncertaint­ies of weather have turned all the more forbidding now. Given the low credibilit­y of the India Meteorolog­ical Department’s weather forecasts, the need is to be constantly prepared to face any weather-related eventualit­y during the monsoon season.

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