A street in Mumbai after a heavy downpour in August, 1997, which brought a rain of 400 mm in 24 hrs. (Source: The Hindu)

The Initial Worries

Unfavourable conditions trigger worry over south-west monsoon (26 June 1997)

Weather experts at the India Meteorological Department are keeping their fingers crossed over the performance of the south- west monsoon, as the waters of the Pacific Ocean are getting warmer. Warming of the Pacific is of significance since it means that there is no hope, at least for the time being, for the El Nino factor, which has a important influence on the monsoon, to become favourable. On the contrary, it only meant that it could have a more adverse impact than what was envisaged a month ago. To add to the problem, the Southern Oscillation, which is another global climatological phenomena that influences the monsoon, has also become more unfavourable. While El Nino is a reflection of the warming of some regions in the tropical Pacific Ocean, Southern Oscillation is an index of difference of pressure between the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean. El Nino is considered favourable if the temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, particularly off the coast of Peru are low, and Southern Oscillation is considered to be advantageous if the atmosphere pressure in the Pacific Ocean is less than that in the Indian Ocean. The officials have, however, not given up hope on the ground that there was still a long way to go before the monsoon, which is active for four months, comes to an end in September.

Funds sought to meet monsoon delay (26 June 1997)

The Union Agriculture Minister, Mr. Chaturanan Mishra, said on Wednesday that he had written to the Prime Minister, Mr. I. K. Gujral, on the likely fallout of the El Nino phenomenon on the foodgrain output in the country and sought Rs. 400 crores for the proposed preparedness plan. ``The farmers cannot afford to take risk and wait for the outcome of monsoon,'' he said, suggesting immediate digging of tubewells particularly in Orissa, Eastern U.P, Bihar and parts of Madhya Pradesh. Mr. Mishra said the country has recorded an all-time high production of foodgrains in 1996-97 surpassing all estimates. The all-India production of foodgrains -as per the latest figures of June 16 - stands at 198.17 million tonnes, which is 4.67 million tonnes more than the target production and 6.05 million tonnes more than the expected production. The year's impressive figure also indicates a significant rise of 13.13 million tonnes in agricultural production over last year's (1995-96) total production of 185.04 million tonnes. Mr. Mishra said the farmers had ``delivered the goods wonderfully''.

Contingency farm plan ready (29 July 1997)

Long dry spells this monsoon season in parts of the country, as well as the impending ``El Nino'' effect, have set the Ministry of Agriculture ``on alert''. While keeping its fingers crossed for a normal monsoon, the Ministry has readied a contingency plan to meet intermittent dry spells or an early withdrawal of monsoon. A Rs. 250-crore proposal of the Ministry to sink tubewells in rainfed areas is awaiting the Prime Minister's approval. Already there is anxiety about the cotton crop, sorghum and pearl millet (bajra). Fortunately, after last week's rainfall in most parts of the country, the paddy crop has picked up, bringing some relief to farmers and planners. The onset of the monsoon was delayed by a week and till July 23, there were at least 10 regions which were deficient in normal rainfall.

... and when it started pouring ...

Rains kill 23 in Maharashtra (Times of India, 25 August 1997)

MUMBAI: At least 23 people including four children and two women have died and thousands rendered homeless all over the state in the heavy rains that continued to batter the metropolis and other parts of Maharashtra for the third consecutive day on Sunday. The city, which recorded the highest rainfall in six years - 407.6 mm in Colaba and 445.6 in Santa Cruz till 8:30 am on Sunday morning was gradually limping back to normalcy after the utter chaos witnessed during the last two days with the breakdown in the rail, road and air network. A total of 13 persons, died in incidents of house collapse, electrocution, landslides and drowning in the metropolis and satellite township of Navi Mumbai. In Pune, Army assisted the civil authorities in rescuing hundreds of people, residing in low-lying areas along the bank of river Mutha. 11,000 slum-dwellers, staying along the river banks, were shifted to make-shift accommodations in several parts of the city. A resident of Vithalwadi area died on Saturday as flood waters gushed into his house while three others were reported missing in the floods. Rail and road traffic, completely paralysed for the last two days, was slightly restored on Sunday morning. In Nasik, three persons were washed away during the last 48 hours in floods and all major rivers - Godavri, Darna, Waldevi and Nasardi - were in spate with flood waters submerging hundreds of hutments on their banks. Thousands of people were shifted to safer places even as the city witnessed an unprecedented traffic jam with hundreds of vehicles stranded on the busy Mumbai-Agra national highway. Fire-brigade reported collapse of house walls in Samatanagar, Takali and Khande-Ganapati localities. However, no deaths were reported. The bountiful rains have brought respite to the farmers in Marathwada region, reeling under drought-like conditions. However, the torrential downpour for the last 48 hours has claimed lives of a four-year old girl in Warudi village in Badnapur taluka and five-year old boy in Palashkheda village in Bhokardhan taluka, both in Jalna district. In Jalgaon district, Sunita and Jyoti Ingale, both sisters, were electrocuted when they came in contact with live wires on their farm at Nhavi village in Yawal tehsil on Saturday. The Tapi, Girna and Purna rivers in Jalgaon were in spate since Saturday and people living along the river banks were asked to shift to safer places. A report from Ratnagiri said two persons were washed away in floods in the district on Saturday. Malkapur, a small town in Buldhana district, recorded the highest rainfall of 292 mm in a 36 hour period till Saturday evening. Over 1,000 houses were submerged under flood waters. Life in Kolhapur district was returning back to normalcy after the heavy downpour since the last two days. However, the Panchganga river was still in spate, while water was released from Radhanagari and Tulsi dams. Paddy crops in Gaganbavada taluka of the district were washed away for the second time during the season and the anguished farmers were now waiting for a respite in rains. Vehicular traffic all over the district still remained disrupted. Traffic was diverted via Hasur as water level of the Bhogavati river was rising, official sources said. 

Rains, in fits and starts, sends Delhiites scurrying (Times of India, 28 August 1997)

NEW DELHI: The city at times had a near-rain experience on Wednesday. The drizzle, which continued for a large part of the day, would suddenly acquire both mass and speed, forcing pedestrians to scurry for shelter. The element of unpredictability stayed all day. Traffic remained thin for most part of the day, with fewer two- wheelers on the roads. According to the municipal corporation and the traffic police, roads however, remained free of water logging . The Yamuna flowed forcefully with its water bearing the seasonal muddy look, as opposed to the usual black. But that was due to rains all along its course, for Delhi's share of rainfall for the month of August is not unusual, says the weather office. A weather office spokesperson said Delhi had received a total rainfall of 38.3 cm this month, which is almost exactly what the city has been averaging. The day recorded 18 millimetres of rainfall. Since Monday morning, Delhi has received 4 cm of rain. ``There is nothing remarkable about this,'' said the spokesperson. For the citizens, it was a day of rain without the usual problems a rainy day brings - water-logged streets and traffic snarl-ups with broken-down vehicles on the roads. Traffic police chief Qamar Ahmed said since it rained in broken spells, there was at no point of time so much water on the streets which could affect traffic. And to make things better, a cool breeze kept the maximum temperature at 28.5 degree Celsius, with the minimum keeping close to it at 25.5. The spokesperson said the city will have similar weather in the next 24 hours.

Indian Monsoon Rains Steer Clear of El Nino Effect (28 August 1997, H. Ramachandran, Reuter)

India's south-west monsoon has progressed satisfactorily and there was no apparent effect of El Nino warm water currents on the country's rainfall, weather officials said on Thursday. "The monsoon is progressing very well," S.R. Khalsi, a senior official of the India Meteorological Department (IMD), told Reuters. "We do not find any discernible effect of El Nino on the performance of the monsoon in India," Khalsi said. El Nino involves an increase in the water temperature off the western coast of South America which can disrupt weather patterns world-wide, creating drought in some areas and floods in others. A report from Chicago earlier this month had quoted Smith Barney meteorologist Jon Davis as saying in his weather update that monsoon rains in India had started to diminish considerably. Weather officials said 83 percent area in the country had received normal or more than normal rainfall so far. The current progress of monsoon also indicated that normal rainfall activity would continue until the end of the season in September.Officials said 29 out of the 35 sub-divisions had received good ra ins. IMD has divided the country into specific divisions according to a specific rainfall pattern. "So far there is no symptom of early withdrawal of monsoon in India," Khalsi said. He said another spell of rainfall was expected in central India in the next 24 hours and good rains were expected to cover the whole country in the next two days. "So where is the question of El Nino?" asked Khalsi. Meteorological officials said several parts of western Maharashtra, Gujarat, parts of eastern India, northern Punjab and Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir and Rajasthan had received good rainfall in the last week. Weather officials said the government was hopeful of a good foodgrains production after plentiful rains. "Given the rainfall distribution in the main foodgrains producing states, expectations are that foodgrains production will be good this year," S.C. Goyal, IMD director said. Agriculture Minister Chaturanan Mishra said on Sunday that the country's foodgrains output in the 1997/98 (July-June) season was expected to cross 200 million tonnes, up from a record 198.17 million in the previous year. The south-west monsoon provides for 80 percent of the total rainfall in India where agriculture employs about two-thirds of workers and accounts for more than a quarter of its gross domestic product (GDP). "Given the rainfall distribution in the main foodgrains producing states, expectations are that foodgrains production will be good this year," S.C. Goyal, IMD director said. Agriculture Minister Chaturanan Mishra said on Sunday that the country's foodgrains output in the 1997/98 (July-June) season was expected to cross 200 million tonnes, up from a record 198.17 million in the previous year. The south-west monsoon provides for 80 percent of the total rainfall in India where agriculture employs about two-thirds of workers and accounts for more than a quarter of its gross domestic product (GDP). Adequate rainfall can bolster farm production, add to national income and keep prices down.

The Exceptions

India monsoon normal, hits rice, oilseed regions (Sambit Mohanty, Reuters Weekly, 10th September 1997)

Southwest monsoon rains in India have progressed well but deficient rains in some southern states have affected rice and oilseeds crops, weather officials and experts said on Wednesday. "About 83 percent of the area, or 29 of the 35 sub-divisions in the country have received excess or normal rainfall," S.R. Khalsi, a senior India Meteorological Department (IMD) official, told Reuters. IMD has divided the country on the basis of a specific rainfall pattern. "The situation for rice, millets and sorghum is extremely grim in southern India," S.M. Virmani, an agriculture expert at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics, told Reuters. "The groundnut crop is also very much affected there," Virmani added. Virmani said only 30 percent of the targeted area could be covered under rice sowing in Andhra Pradesh because of extremely poor rain in the region. Navinbhai Shah, president of the Bombay Oilseeds and Oil Exchange Ltd told Reuters that the groundnut crop in the western state of Gujarat, which contributes 35 percent of the country's total production, was expected to be good because of plentiful rains "But oilseeds crop output is expected to be very poor in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu," Shah said. "There will be a 50 percent drop in output from these states." The three southern states contribute about 50 percent to the country's oilseeds output. Shah said in the last few days the deficient southern regions got some good rainfall but it was too late to undertake sowing operations. "The damage has been already done." Khalsi said rainfall had been deficient in the hills of northern Uttar Pradesh state and some regions in central India. "The situation in these areas may improve marginally in the coming days," Khalsi said. Meteorological officials said they had completely discounted fears of the negative impact of El Nino warm water currents on India's monsoon rains. "The way the monsoon rains have progressed this year have shown that there has been absolutely no impact of El Nino on India's monsoon rains," Khalsi said. Virmani said that monsoon had already entered the withdrawal phase. "It will withdraw from northern India completely by September 15." Monsoon rains normally withdraw completely from the country by the end of September. The four-month monsoon gives the country about 80 percent of its annual rainfall in a country where agriculture employs two-thirds of the workers and contributes more than a quarter of its gross domestic product. IMD has forecast a 10th successive normal monsoon in 1997.

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