The India Meteorological Department’s (IMD’s) forecast of above-normal rainfall in the upcoming South-West monsoon is welcome news for the farm sector and the economy. In its first-stage forecast released on Monday, IMD predicted that the overall quantum of rains for the 2024 season will be at 106 per cent of the long-period average (LPA). Its probability distribution, which is sometimes at variance with its forecast, is in sync this year. It pegs the probability of above-normal or excess rains at 61 per cent and below-normal or deficient rains at 10 per cent.

The second-stage forecast in May is expected to provide granular predictions on region-wise and month-wise distribution of rain. A munificent South-West monsoon is critical for the country. In 2023, a prolonged El Nino contributed to a sub-par monsoon with rainfall at just 94 per cent of the LPA. Patchy spatial and temporal distribution resulted in Eastern and Southern States facing drought. Southern States are grappling with a precarious water situation with average reservoir storage at 20 per cent of capacity. Owing to sub-par rain, the agriculture Gross Value Added (GVA) expanded by just 0.7 per cent in FY24, a year when industry and services were firing on all cylinders. A timely and bountiful monsoon can lift agriculture GVA, boost rural incomes and hopefully quell stubborn food price inflation.

This is, however, subject to IMD’s first-stage forecast coming good. IMD’s April forecasts have proved off-target in the past, as they tend to be too early to gauge developing atmospheric conditions and weather anomalies impacting monsoon performance. Last year, for instance, when the IMD forecast a normal monsoon at 96 per cent of LPA in April, it underestimated the impact of the developing El Nino. In 2022, the actual rainfall at 106 per cent of LPA substantially overshot IMD’s April forecast of 99 per cent. But this year one can attach a greater degree of confidence to IMD’s forecast of above-normal rain due to two factors.

The IMD has historically faltered in predicting monsoon performance mainly in El Nino years. But this time, there are strong indications that global El Nino conditions that have been in place since February 2023 are rapidly receding. Besides, an Australian Bureau of Meteorology update on Wednesday announced the official end of El Nino and said Pacific waters were transitioning to neutral ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillation) conditions. It also cited global models that predicted the onset of La Nina in the Central Pacific by July. La Nina years have coincided with excess monsoon rain in India. The Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) has historically exercised a greater influence on the Indian monsoon than the ENSO. Global weather trackers have recently noted IOD readings moving into positive territory. Should these readings persist, India could reap twin benefits from an emerging La Nina and a positive IOD in the second half of the monsoon season.