India expects good monsoon rains despite El Nino (Reuters, Sambit Mohanty, 25 May 1998)

India is expecting normal monsoon rainfall in the 1998 season despite the persisting effect of El Nino warm water currents, the India Meteorological Department (IMD) said on Monday. "In 1998 the rainfall over the country as a whole for the entire southwest monsoon season (June-September) is likely to be normal, thus making the year 1998 the eleventh normal monsoon year in succession," IMD said in a statement. The southwest monsoon provides for about 80 percent of the annual rainfall in India, where agriculture employs two-thirds of the workers and accounts for more than a quarter for its gross domestic product. Adequate rainfall can bolster farm production, add to the national income and keep prices down. The industrial sector follows the monsoon closely because grain prices often determine consumer demand and factory wages.

 IMD said it would have to keep a close watch over the progress of El Nino currents, although the temperature of the Pacific Ocean had been decreasing."Although since December 1997 the warming over the Pacific Ocean has been gradually decreasing, the El Nino episode is likely to persist during the first half of 1998 monsoon season," the IMD statement said. "This factor would therefore have to be continuously monitored for its concurrent influences over the monsoon rainfall," it said. El Nino is a warming of the eastern Pacific which disrupts weather patterns worldwide, bringing extreme drought to some areas and extreme flooding to others. The phenomenon hit crop production in many Asian nations in 1997.

 IMD Director-General R.R. Kelkar told a news conference that present indications showed the four-month monsoon rains were expected to start around the normal time, the beginning of June, in the southern state of Kerala. IMD predicted rainfall equal to 99 percent of the long-term average. "Quantitatively the rainfall over the country as a whole for the entire southwest monsoon season is likely to be 99 percent of its long-period average with an estimated model error of plus minus four percent," the statement said.

 Kelkar told Reuters after the news conference: "The 99 percent rainfall has been predicted after taking into account the effect of El Nino warm water currents." Kelkar said there was no one-to-one correlation between the monsoon rains and El Nino and therefore India could safely expect good rainfall this monsoon season. "Last year, the El Nino effect was strong but India received normal monsoon rainfall," Kelkar said. "There is no one-to-one correlation between rains in India and El Nino." "As per statistics, every strong El Nino year has been followed by a year of good monsoon rains," Kelkar added. "This is one of the reasons for which we are expecting good monsoon rains." Kelkar said nine of the 16 model parameters on which the forecast of the Indian monsoon rains were based, were favourable this year. "This gives us enough confidence to predict a normal monsoon," he said.