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El Nino Returns? How a Climate Event Off the Coast of Peru could Affect Indian Monsoon This Year

Tushar Dhara |

Updated: April 14, 2017, 4:24 PM IST
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El Nino Returns? How a Climate Event Off the Coast of Peru could Affect Indian Monsoon This Year
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Will there be a normal monsoon this year? From farmers to economists to investors, everyone is eagerly waiting for the weather department’s monsoon forecast next week. Meteorological experts suggest that there’s a cause for India to be concerned, if not alarmed.

A massive weather event in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Peru, could result in a deficient monsoon this year, potentially affecting India’s agricultural output and food security.

The climate cycle is the El Nino, which occurs over the Pacific Ocean and affects weather patterns worldwide. The El Nino is characterised by warm surface temperatures over the Eastern Pacific Ocean, which results in heavy rain in South America and drier conditions over South and South East Asia and Australia.

Most global weather forecasting systems see the El Nino reviving in the second half of 2017, just around the time when India’s annual monsoon season gets underway, with implications for the country’s water and food security. In this backdrop, Met department’s forecast next week becomes crucial.

Skymet, a private weather forecaster, has predicted that India will receive “below normal” rains in 2017. It has predicted that total rain in the monsoon season — June to September — will be 95% of the long period average (LPA).

LPA is the average rainfall computed over a 50-year-period from 1951 to 2001. A forecast is benchmarked against this figure to arrive at a conclusion whether rainfall will be above or below normal. Between 96% and 104% of the LPA is considered ‘normal’, while ‘below normal’ is between 90% and 95%. A figure below this is considered ‘deficient’.

“Most of the global weather models indicate that El Nino is going to make a comeback in July,” Mahesh Palawat, Skymet’s chief meteorologist told News18. “Although there is no one-on-one correlation between El Nino and food production, it could impact agricultural output because of drier conditions in India,” he added.

Skymet has predicted below normal rainfall in Haryana, Punjab and Western Uttar Pradesh, India’s wheat belt. Although Skymet’s prediction was made some time ago, Palawat said most models since then have indicated the revival of El Nino.

Sridhar Radhakrishnan, the Director of Thanal, an organization that works on agricultural and environmental issues, said if the models indeed turn out to be correct, then there are implications for food security.

“It is going to have a serious impact on food production in rain-fed as well as irrigated areas,” Radhakrishnan told News18. “Even the irrigated areas, like Punjab and Haryana, depend on rainfall to replenish the reservoirs.”

Although it is too early to say how and to what extent Indian agriculture will be affected, some are saying crop yields could be affected.

Rekha Mishra, Skymet’s agricultural expert said the main affect could be on kharif crops like rice, soyabean and cotton. Even wheat, which is winter crop, could be affected indirectly because the soil may not have enough moisture. “Yields depend on the amount of water at the critical growth stage of the crop, after it is sown,” Mishra told News18.

First Published: April 14, 2017, 4:07 PM IST
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