Climate Change

More dry days ahead? Monsoon on continuous break for past 11 days

The longest consecutive break spell was reported in 1972 when the core monsoon zone did not receive any rainfall for 17 days at a stretch

By Pulaha Roy
Published: Thursday 17 August 2023
Representative photo: iStock

The current monsoon season has been on a continuous break for the past 11 days, hinting at more dry days, according to experts.

“Eleven days of not getting rain is not a good sign,” Madhavan Rajeevan, former secretary at the Ministry of Earth Sciences, told Down To Earth. The impact of the developing El Nino, which is yet to peak, can be clearly seen in the current break spell, he said. 

A monsoonal break, according to experts, occurs when the monsoon trough shifts northward. This movement enhances rainfall along the Himalayan foothills and parts of eastern India while suppressing it in the rest of the country — especially in the core monsoon zone or the region stretching from Gujarat in the west to West Bengal and Odisha in the east — where agricultural activities are rain-fed.

While a monsoonal break from an active phase is quite normal, what is alarming about the current situation is how long the current spell has stretched without showing any signs of becoming active.

While a monsoon season might feature multiple break spells, to assess how dire the current situation is, DTE accessed data on the longest consecutive break spells since 1951. 

A figure indicating the longest consecutive break spells since 1951. Credit: Pulaha Roy.

In the last 73 years, there have been a total of 10 instances when the break spell has stretched over 10 days, according to the data. The longest consecutive break spell was reported in 1972 when the core monsoon zone did not receive any rainfall for 17 days at a stretch. While in 1966 and 2002, the break spell stretched over 10 days on multiple occasions.

The current break spell also comes at a time when the government declared a ban on the export of rice, the most important Kharif crop. While monsoon is still a month and a half away from retreating from the subcontinent, it remains to be seen how Kharif production fares this season.

Monsoon this season has been a six per cent deficit compared to the long-term average but ‘normal’ as per India Meteorological Department’s rainfall categorisation. However, a closer look suggests that the distribution has been skewed. A total of 268 of 717 districts remain deficient to large deficient.

Another anomaly that stands out in 2023 is the drier western regions, specifically the west Rajasthan and Saurashtra-Kutch meteorological subdivisions. While these regions received large excess rainfall, the usually wetter regions like Kerala, Gangetic West Bengal, Bihar and Jharkhand remained dry due to deficient rainfall.

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