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Tuesday, Jun 10, 2003

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Extended monsoon may be weak on retreat: Expert

Vinson Kurian


INDIA is likely to have an "extended" southwest monsoon followed by a "comparatively weaker" northeast monsoon if the nascent La Nina event, evidenced in the slow but confirmed upwelling of cooler seawaters in the equatorial Pacific, were to play out to a fuller scale.

According to Mr Jeff Thompson, a leading meteorologist with the Kansas, US-based Global Weather Services, if the still-evolving La Nina were to have an impact on the Indian monsoon, it would come later in the southwest monsoon season and possibly into the northeast monsoon.

"There could possibly be an extension to the southwest monsoon followed by a weakened northeast monsoon, if this event continues," Mr Thompson said in an e-mail to Business Line.

However, many of the forecast models call for near normal SST's (sea surface temperatures) to return to the Pacific by the end of the year, ending this brief La Nina.

"So, I guess we will have to wait a few weeks and once we get into late June-early July, we should have a better indication on how the La Nina event is shaping up and what effects it is having on the Indian monsoon. For now, I would feel safe sticking to a near normal monsoon forecast by the India Meteorological Department," he added.

According to him, the jury is still largely out on La Nina and the effects it could possibly have on this monsoon season. "The forecast of a near-normal monsoon will probably be accurate. If there is a bias, we feel it will sway ever-so-slightly towards above normal," he said.

As for the unusual heating up of the north and peninsular India, "yes, it could possibly enhance the monsoon rains once they reach central and northern India into Pakistan, as the extreme warmth helps to deepen the trough of low pressure and create stronger convective shower activity. We feel the extreme heat this season is a result of the terribly dry ground in the region, as dry ground will heat up faster and greater than wetter ground will."

Earlier, Global Weather Systems had come out with the prediction that the extreme heat that has been dominating both India and Pakistan would lead to an increase in the land-sea breezes, leading to land winds and showers.

In their reaction to an evolving La Nina 2003 event, scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology said it was difficult to predict what the coming months held.

But the general feeling is that the mild 2002/03 El Nino is nearing its end. The latest SSTs and sea level maps from space do show a cooling trend in the equatorial Pacific. The warm strip of El Nino is giving way to a cool band of water that might herald La Nina.

La Nina often, but not always, follows El Nino. In 1998, the transition from what is generally considered the century's worst El Nino happened in the month of May.

This time, it seemed to be happening from as early as March this year. El Nino is a global weather disturbance that comes along every four to seven years when trade winds blowing across the Pacific Ocean weaken or even reverse, a phenomenon not properly deciphered as yet.

Normally these winds blow from the Americas toward Australia, pushing sun-warmed surface waters from east to west. Warm water accumulates near Australia in a region called `the warm pool'. La Nina is a phenomenon just opposite in nature to El Nino.

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