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Sunday, May 26, 2002

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Yet another normal monsoon forecast

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THE India Meteorological Department (IMD) has predicted yet another `normal' South-West monsoon for 2002, making it the 15th consecutive year in which the country as a whole would receive normal-to-excess rainfall during the June-September period.

According to the IMD's `long range' forecast released here today, the total mean rainfall for the country during the four-month-long monsoon season would be 101 per cent of its long period average (LPA), rendering it `normal' in overall terms.

For the three broad homogeneous meteorological regions of the country - Peninsular India (the southern States plus Gujarat, Maharashtra and MP), North-West India (J&K, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, UP, Rajasthan and Delhi) and North-East India (West Bengal, Orissa, Bihar, Andamans and the north-eastern States) - the IMD has forecast average rainfall levels at 99 per cent, 104 per cent and 100 per cent of their respective LPAs.

The IMD Director-General, Dr R.R. Kelkar, told newspersons here today that 11 out of the 16 regional and global land-ocean-atmospheric parameters employed in the Department's `long-range forecasting parametric and power regression model' were found to be favourable this time, which, in quantitative terms, translated into a total seasonal rainfall amounting to 101 per cent of the country's LPA.

The five unfavourable parameters included `El Nino' - i.e the abnormal rise in sea surface temperatures over the Pacific Ocean - which, in the past, has been seen to adversely impact the country's monsoon performance. Dr Kelkar noted that since February 2002, temperatures over the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean have shown an increasing trend. This was as against the near-normal or moderate `La Nina' (the converse of `El Nino') conditions prevailing over the Pacific region in the last four years.

Dr Kelkar, however, held that "there is no one-to-one linkage between El Nino and the Indian monsoon'' and the last major El Nino event in 1997-98 had, in fact, not affected the monsoon's performance. "El Nino prediction is still a maturing science and even this is susceptible to epochal changes'', he stated.

According to Dr Kelkar, the IMD's research indicated that the monsoon's performance in recent years had been influenced more by ocean-atmosphere conditions in the Indian Ocean rather than in the Pacific Ocean. "In our model, we have two parameters that indirectly reflect this Indian Ocean Dipole phenomenon - South Indian Ocean Surface Sea Temperature and Arabian Sea SST. Both these are favourable this time'', he said.

While pointing out that the present El Nino episode seemed to have entered a `weakening phase', Dr Kelkar, at the same time, admitted that there was a likelihood of `weak to moderate' El Nino conditions building up concurrently during the monsoon season, which could have a possible adverse impact. ''We will be closely monitoring the situation. But as of now, we expect a normal monsoon'', he added.

The IMD considers the monsoon to be `normal' for the country as a whole if the total mean rainfall over the June-September period ranges between 90-110 per cent of the LPA. The latter, in turn, is taken to be the average historical rainfall of 880.7 mm.

A monsoon is reckoned as being `deficient' if the average rainfall is below 90 per cent of the country's LPA. A rainfall figure above 110 per cent of the LPA is tantamount to an `excess' monsoon. India has had `normal' monsoons ever since 1989, with 1988 being an `excess' monsoon year.

Although the IMD's model has an estimated error range of only plus or minus four per cent of the forecast levels, the deviations from the actuals have been much larger in the last three years. For 2002, the overall forecast was 98 per cent of the LPA, whereas the actual figure turned out to be only 92 per cent.

Dr Kelkar said that the monsoon this year is scheduled to arrive around its normal date of June 1.

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