Climate Change

Queen of rain no more: How Karnataka’s Agumbe lost to little-known Udupi towns

Nadpal and Mudradi received more rain than Agumbe this monsoon

By M Raghuram
Published: Tuesday 19 September 2023
Though many places in the Western Ghats have been receiving more rains than Agumbe in the past, many got their own rain gauges only in 2022. Photo: Rajath R

Karnataka’s Agumbe Rainforest Complex (ARC) has been on school textbooks for its phenomenal rainfall ever since the British erected the first rain gauge there in 1882. Agumbe in Shivamogga district had been christened as the ‘Cherrapunji of the South’ for receiving over 8,000 mm of rainfall during the monsoon.

ARC received its peak rainfall of 6,000 mm during the monsoon months of June and August. But, for two years now, the peak monsoon rainfall here has been wavering in the range of 5,250 mm-5,500 mm, leading to Agumbe losing its crown to little-known towns in Udupi district. 

However, Karnataka State Natural Disaster Management Corporation (KSNDMC) officials said there has always been more rain in many places in the Western Ghats in the past.

Nadpal and Mudradi have got more rain than ARC and were closely followed by Amagaon in Belagavi district, they pointed out.

In 2021, Agumbe — situated just 90 kilometres from the coastal city of Mangaluru — recorded less rain than Hulikal in the next hill range. Moreover, Nadpal and Mudradi, located at least 45-50 kilometres away from ARC, got more rainfall than Agumbe in 2022.

Though many places in the Western Ghats have been receiving more rains than Agumbe in the past, many got their own rain gauges only in 2022. And these gauges have started showing the results in 2022-2023, according to KSNDMC officials.

While Agumbe recorded 6,251.5 mm of rain in 2022-2023 so far, Nadpal town received 6,391.8mm, pushing Agumbe to second place. And Hulikal in Hassan district, with 6,422.9 mm, dragged Agumbe further to the third position in the state. 

More rain gauge installations are to come up in 2023-2024, according to the KSNDMC officials. Many gauges set up in 2022 started functioning during the mid-monsoon period of 2022 and by the end of the monsoon of 2023. These gauges will accurately show rainfall results in the current southwest monsoon by October first week.

Photo: Rajath R 

Though the India Meteorological Department (IMD) predicted just 95 per cent of the usual rain for the country this year, it pitched that parts of the Western Ghats, including the Nilgiris and Sahyadris, would get more rain than usual.

However, the monsoon stalled for over 22 days in August, leaving the Western Ghats completely dry.

As of now, the state has got only 65 per cent of the usual rain and it is unlikely to receive the remaining 30 per cent in the next 20 days or more left in the monsoon calendar, according to KSNDMC records.

The rain gauge installed by the Karnataka Power Corporation Limited (KPCL) 20 years ago has been recording more rain than Agumbe.

“We have been recording higher rains than Agumbe, but due to the fact that Agumbe has been on the rain gauge for more than a century, a quarter of the rainfall received at Agumbe was highlighted,” said Vinayak Kumar, an official of the KPCL rain gauge centre in Hulikal.

“In fact, we were recording a little more than 9,000 mm for the last two years, which was more than what the rain gauge in Agumbe recorded,” he added.

KSNMDC had also set up a modern automatic rain gauge in Hulikal in 2013. However, the gauge could not give the right reading due to extreme monsoon conditions, which was another factor for Agumbe to get highlighted.

The actual rain figures will be available only if we take the average rainfall in all the gauges in the ARC and Hulikal, according to local rain experts.

“We are getting less rain in Agumbe. During July-September, we could not venture out without our umbrellas and raincoats, but now we do get patches of bright sunshine very often during the peak monsoon period,” said Govinda Nayak, a trader from Agumbe.

Researchers from ARC felt that the rains were not as heavy as they were in the past. “During our field tours to the neighbouring hill ranges, we could feel the rains there were much heavier than in Agumbe,” they said.

Rain in Agumbe feeds hundreds of water bodies that nurture scores of rivers originating in the Western Ghats.

Studies of rainfall patterns in Agumbe help hundreds of researchers all over the country gauge rainfall as well as form theories on hydrological profiles in the southern peninsula, experts at Kuvempu University in Shivamogga said. But looking at the new rain-intensive areas in Karkala taluk, the university feels that their students must also take recordings from Nadpal and Mudradi. 

The Agumbe Rainforest Research Station was also studying the behaviour of the monsoons in ARC for two reasons: First, the general biodiversity academic interest and second, the effects on the world’s only natural habitat of the King Cobra.

It comprises a large area of forests from Someshwara Wildlife Sanctuary, Kudremukh National Park, Kodachadri and Mookambika hill ranges and reserve forests around Kundapur, Shankaranarayana, Hosanagara, Sringeri and Thirthahalli, which makes it a fertile field for more rain-related research.

These regions foster thick bamboo groves, which are endemic to the Western Ghats. These groves need more rain to grow to such girths that can house the nests of King Cobras. Without rain, the bamboo groves perish, said the researchers at the Agumbe Rainforest Research Centre.

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