Half the monsoon season is over with pockets of floods and regions of drought. Will it be a 'normal' monsoon year?

While Mumbai has already received 86 per cent of its annual rainfall, Marathwada region in Maharashtra has deficient rainfall of minus 25 per cent. Vadodara in Gujarat, which had minus 43 per cent rainfall departure, is now facing floods. In a changing climate, we must adapt to rainfall variations in the country.

Nidhi JamwalNidhi Jamwal   1 Aug 2019 5:10 AM GMT

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Half the monsoon season is over with pockets of floods and regions of drought. Will it be a normal monsoon year?

Officially, half of southwest monsoon season, which brings rainfall across the country, is over. The all India rainfall departure has come down from minus 33 per cent in June end to minus 9 per cent. "As of July 31, the rainfall deficiency is only 9 per cent. Today's [August 1] extended range forecast for the next four weeks suggests good rainfall in August. We are expecting monsoon rainfall to be normal, as we had predicted," M Rajeevan, secretary, Union ministry of earth sciences told Gaon Connection.

Clearly, July has been a good month as far as rainfall is concerned, as monsoon has revived in the country. As per the India Meteorological Department (IMD), of the total 36 meteorological sub-divisions in the country, 19 have received 'normal' rainfall. Fourteen sub-divisions are in 'deficient' rainfall category, whereas three — Konkan and Goa, Madhya Maharashtra, and East Rajasthan — have received 'excess' rainfall.

"If one compares rainfall situation between June and now, we are definitely better placed today. But, there are regions in the country where rainfall has been poor, thereby affecting kharif crops. Water scarcity continues to remain a concern in such areas," said R R Kelkar, a senior meteorologist and former director general of IMD (see maps: Sub-division rainfall maps; June 1-30, 2019, and June 1- July 31, 2019 ).

As per the South Asia Drought Monitor managed by the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Gandhinagar, as of July 28, almost 45 per cent area of the country is still facing drought conditions.

Maps: Sub-division rainfall maps; June 2019, and June- July, 2019

Take the case of western Maharashtra, which has received heavy rainfall (Pune has recorded 98 per cent above normal rainfall, as of July 31). But, several other districts in Marathwada, a drought-prone region of the state, have recorded deficient rainfall, though rainfall has picked pace in the last one week. "Kharif sowing has been delayed by weeks, as several villages in Marathwada received first shower of the year only last week," added Kelkar.

As of July 31, which is half the monsoon season over, Beed, Parbhani, Latur, and Nanded districts have rainfall departure of minus 37 per cent, minus 35 per cent, minus 35 per cent, and minus 23 per cent, respectively. But, overall Maharashtra state is in 'normal' monsoon category.

All eyes are now set on the IMD, which is expected to soon issue an update on long range forecast of the two remaining months of the southwest monsoon season, i.e. August and September. Two months back, on May 31, the Met department had issued second stage forecast of 2019 southwest monsoon rainfall predicting the season rainfall for the country as whole to be 'normal' at 96 per cent of the long period average (LPA) with a model error of plus or minus 4 per cent.

Meanwhile, Rajeevan has already told Gaon Connection that this southwest monsoon season will end at a 'normal' note. "Sub-divisions in south, which at present have deficient rainfall, can expect rainfall in August and September. South peninsula gets rainfall during the onset phase and when the wet spells move from south to north, which we call northward propagation. This year northward propagation is very weak," explained Rajeevan.

"But, monsoon is getting revived in-situ. So, south peninsula should expect rains, especially in September," he added. According to him, in any given year, some sub-divisions will be deficient. This year also, at least three to four sub-divisions may go deficient.

Jamnalal Kisku, a Santhal tribe member, who lives in Katiyo village in Markaccho block of Koderma, has lost his Kharif crop of paddy last year due to poor monsoon rains. Pic: Nidhi Jamwal

However, private weather forecaster, Skymet Weather, claims it will be a 'below normal' monsoon rainfall year with 93 per cent of LPA. "Although the all India rainfall deficit has come down to minus 9 per cent, we stick by our forecast of 'below normal' rainfall of 93 per cent with a model effort of plus or minus 5 per cent," Jatin Singh, founder and director of Skymet Weather told Gaon Connection.

"August month is crucial, as we receive 33 per cent of our total southwest monsoon rainfall in that month. August 10 onward, we are expecting a long period of dry spell, which may increase the overall rainfall deficit," he added.

But, Sridhar Balasubramanian, associate professor of mechanical engineering and an adjunct faculty member at IDP Climate Studies, IIT Bombay says the monsoon season is expected to end at a 'normal' note, as suggested by Rajeevan. "The southwest monsoon has been very active in July month, which has coincided with a waning El Niño and development of positive IOD [Indian Ocean Dipole], both of which are positive contributors to our monsoon. We will see a normal monsoon season of 97 per cent of LPA," Balasubramanian told Gaon Connection.

According to him, August is expected to be wet and parts of the country will see normal rainfall. "Moreover, MJO [Madden-Julian oscillation], which impacts our southwest monsoon, seems to be in our basin in early half of August, which is also a positive factor for the monsoon rainfall," he added.

Floods in Bihar have affected 8.8 million and 130 are dead. Pic: Abhishek Verma

Delayed onset but days of heavy rainfall

This year's monsoon has been a monsoon of 'extremes'. Firstly, as against a normal onset date of June 1, the southwest monsoon hit Kerala coast on June 8. Cyclone Vayu in Arabia Sea further delayed the progress of monsoon. Mumbai, where monsoon normally arrives on June 10, faced a delay of more than two weeks as monsoon arrived only on June 25.

But, in spite of two weeks delay in the arrival of monsoon, as of July 31, the metropolis has already received 1,979.9 millimetre (mm) rainfall, or 86 per cent of its total annual rainfall. And, two months of the southwest season are still remaining.

In his statement to the Assembly on July 2, Devendra Fadnavis, the state chief minister, informed that the state capital had received second highest rainfall in the last 45 years with the entire June month's average rainfall (about 550 mm) received in just three days period in Mumbai.

July brought similar heavy rainfall. As against an average monthly rainfall of 799 mm for July month (IMD Santacruz observatory), Santacruz received 1464.8 mm rainfall, which is the second highest July rainfall since the year 1959, as tweeted by K S Hosalikar, deputy director general of meteorology at IMD, Mumbai. The highest July rainfall was recorded in 2014 at 1468.5 mm.

Pic: Abhishek Verma

Similar instances of heavy rainfall were recorded in mid-July in northeastern states, which, till early July, were facing an acute drought.

As per the state-wise weekly rainfall distribution data of the IMD, between July 11 and July 17, as against a normal rainfall of 90.1 mm, Tripura received a whooping 317.9mm rainfall, thereby registering a rainfall departure (large excess category) of 253 per cent. Similarly, between July 11 and July 17, Mizoram, Sikkim, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Assam had 'large excess' rainfall of 158 per cent, 125 per cent, 111 per cent, 105 per cent, and 76 per cent, respectively. This triggered large-scale floods in the region.

Around the same time, extremely heavy downpour lead to floods in Bihar, where over 8.8 million people are still flood-affected and 130 dead.

Meanwhile, yesterday, on July 31, Vadodara city in Gujarat, which had minus 43 per cent rainfall departure, received 554 mm rainfall within 12 hours period, thereby setting a new record. The city is now facing flash floods and National Disaster Response Force has been deployed.

But, drought also continues

While parts of the country are facing floods, there are regions where drought conditions have continued in spite of half the southwest monsoon season already over.

As of July 31, Marathwada region in Maharashtra has minus 25 per cent rainfall departure. Kerala, which faced unprecedented floods last August, has minus 32 per cent deficient rainfall. Jharkhand, which has been in the grips of an acute drought for the last one year, has minus 36 per cent rainfall departure.

Of the total 260 blocks in Jharkhand, 126 blocs were declared drought hit last November. Pic: Nidhi Jamwal

The impacts of delayed onset of monsoon and rainfall variability are visible on kharif (monsoon crop) sowing in the country, though bursts of heavy rainfall in July month have brought relief to the farmers and sowing has picked up.

As per Department of Agriculture Cooperation & Farmers Welfare under the Union ministry of agriculture, as of July 26, about 185.14 lakh hectare (ha) area in the country is covered under rice as compared to last year's 215.71 lakh ha (for corresponding week). Thus, a decline of about 14 per cent in rice sowing area. Similarly, there is a 10 per cent decline in pulses area in the country. Coarse cereals and oilseeds have registered a slight decline, too.

In Maharashtra, area under pulses is 15.866 lakh ha as against the normal area coverage of 17.529 lakh ha, a decline of about 10 per cent. "Although the sowing has picked up, there will be decline in kharif crop productivity due to delayed sowing," said Sandipan Badgire, a farmer from Sonwati village in Latur, Maharashtra.

"Even in a normal rainfall year, there will be drought like situations. Already Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and some parts of north India and Gujarat are seeing below normal rains. Drought situation is likely in the future," warned Balasubramanian.

In an acute drought year, members of Santhal tribal family in Jharkhand collect mica scrap to earn a living. Pic: Nidhi Jamwal

According to Singh, the only decent monsoon rainfall the country has received in the recent past was in 2016. "Since then, monsoon rainfall has been poor because of which drought conditions have accentuated in large parts of the country. To address any eventualities, the government must prepared a hydrological strategy for the country by early October this year, so that it is not a full blown water crisis next summer," he added.

Meanwhile, Maharashtra and Karnataka, which were facing acute drought since the last one year, are experimenting with cloud seeding to create artificial rain. "Artificial cloud seeding method is not the solution since it is a highly non-linear and a very expensive process. Rather, we should go for low cost and more feasible solutions like harvesting rainwater and resorting lakes and other water bodies," said Balasubramanian.

Rajeevan allays any fears of acute water crisis in the country. "We don't expect any large deficiency of rainfall. The government is well informed and is on track to take care of any eventuality," he said. "After a long delay, sowing has also picked up. Water levels in dams are also rising. We should expect a normal monsoon now," added Rajeevan.

Undoubtedly, the next two months of the southwest monsoon season are crucial for the country's agriculture and water resources.

Read Also: Drought-hit Maharashtra now facing floods fury as impacts of climate change get more pronounced

Read Also: Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman exalts zero budget farming, while farmers in Maharashtra stare at another year of crop losses

Read Also: An excess weekly rainfall of up to 250% above normal brings massive floods in the northeast India

Read Also: "Disaster is the third crop": Breaching of river embankments has worsened the floods in Bihar


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