India is likely to get ‘normal’ monsoon rains, according to the first official forecast of the season by the India Meteorological Department (IMD).
Rains are likely to be 96% of the 50-year average of 89cm for the monsoon season of June to September. They are expected to fan out favourably and “help agriculture.”
There is, however, a significant element of uncertainty in this forecast.
For one, there’s the looming threat of El Nino. Secondly, the IMD has adopted a new weather model this year, and it is still a work-in-progress.
Officials told that they would be more confident by June, when the IMD updates its numbers.
The IMD’s estimate of 96% rains falls at the bottom edge of what it considers ‘normal’ monsoon rains. Every number forecast by the IMD has a built-in 5% error margin.
India saw drought years in 2014 and 2015. As for 2016, it received 3% less than the 89 cm average, despite an IMD forecast of ‘above normal’ rains. Given the deficient pre-monsoon rains over large parts of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, good rains are essential this year to trap enough soil moisture for a healthy kharif crop, which is vital to keep inflation down and rural consumption up.
Since 2012, the April forecast has never been able to forecast the monsoon numbers right. In 2015, for instance, it said monsoon rains would be 93%, but India ended up with 86%. In 2014, it predicted 95% and the country ended up with 88%. On both occasions, the forecasts failed to signal the magnitude of the monsoon failure.