Will this June be the driest ever on record?

One quarter of the monsoon will soon be over and rainfall deficit has already hit 44 per cent

By Akshit Sangomla
Published: Wednesday 19 June 2019

Photo: Wikimedia CommonsBy June-end, a quarter of the monsoon season will be over. Going by the pattern and rainfall data, this month accounts for 17 per cent of the monsoon season’s total rainfall (June – September).

But data from the India Meteorological Department (IMD) shows something else, rather scary. By June 18, 2019, the country experienced a monsoon shortfall of 44 per cent.

The thought that there are still 11 days for the month to end does raise hopes. But the fact is the monsoon had not even moved beyond coastal Kerala and Karnataka by June 18.

If the situation doesn’t improve soon, India might be hitting one of its driest Junes.

Till June 18, the rainfall recorded was 46.1 milimetres compared with the normal June rainfall of 82.4 mm. In 2014, June was one of the driest since 1901, when India began recording rainfall data. That year, the month of June received 85.8 mm of rain between June 1 and June 28. This was a departure of 42 per cent from the average June rain.

Since 1901, India has received below 100 mm rainfall only three times in June: 88.7 mm in June, 1905, 97.6 mm in 1926 and 85.7 mm rain in 2009, which was the country’s one of the worst drought years.

“The monsoon winds have currently reached southern Karnataka and a few places in northeast India. They will advance only after June 21 when the atmospheric conditions will be more conducive,” said Mahesh Palawat, chief meteorologist, Skymet Weather Services.

Monsoon rains are brought in by the south westerly winds which were disrupted by Cyclone Vayu in the Arabian Sea. Only when these winds blow at a normal speed can the monsoon progress into the Indian sub continent.

Down To Earth recently reported that more than 44 per cent of India's areas were under various degrees of drought conditions (abnormally dry to exceptionally dry) as of June 10, 2019 — that is nearly 11 percentage point over a year ago. The monsoon entered India late and was preceded by the second-driest pre-monsoon season in the last 65 years.

In 2013, scientists from the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology who analysed rainfall data dating back to 1871, said with a deficit rainfall in June, the chances of a deficit overall monsoon were around 77 per cent.

The month of June may end up with a deficit of 40 per cent in at least 66 districts across the country, Skymet Weather had earlier warned.

But in this situation, the IMD’s own forecast of a deficit July rainfall makes the situation worse. This will mean the country is looking at a drought-like situation.

The spatial distribution of monsoon rain dictates our cropping cycle. In July, the country witnesses the peak of monsoon as one-third of total monsoon rains are received in this month.

History shows that deficit rainfall in July triggers droughts. An analysis of the country’s six worst droughts during 1877-2005 showed that deficit July rainfall was a common factor.

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