India’s weather office forecasts delayed arrival of monsoon over Kerala

India’s annual monsoon is expected to hit the southern Kerala coast a week later than scheduled, raising fears of increased rural stress since rains over drought-hit areas of southern, central and western parts of the country would be delayed.

Poor monsoon rains in the last two summers caused drought in cane areas of Karnataka, Maharashtra, and also caused water stress in soybean areas of central India.

Rainfall during the four-month period from June is vital for Asia’s third-largest economy as half of its cultivable land still does not have irrigation. Nearly two-thirds of India’s 1.2 billion people live in villages and are heavily dependent on farm activities. The farm sector makes up for about 14 percent of the country’s $2 trillion economy.

India Meteorological Department (IMD), the weather office, treats the arrival of the monsoon on June 1 as normal. Last two years, the monsoon had hit the Kerala coast beyond the normal date, and ended the four-month long season with poor rainfall, causing drought in many parts.

“If the monsoon progress towards the mainland gets late as a consequence of a week-long delay in the arrival, then farmers would have to face a tough time in terms of higher irrigation costs,” said Sudhir Panwar, chief of farmers’ lobby group Kisan Jagriti Manch.

IMD’s forecast of the onset has an error margin of four days, meaning that the onset forecast rules out an early arrival and missing the normal date this year.

Panwar said it would have been better if the monsoon had arrived before the normal date, as farmers could have gone for an early planting of summer crops.

India is the world’s leading producer and consumer of rice, sugar, corn, soybean and cotton. The monsoon rains hold the key to production for these commodities.

India’s weather office retained its forecast of a bountiful monsoon season this year despite the expected delay in the onset over the Kerala coast.

“There is no change to the forecast of an above average monsoon rainfall this year in an absence of El Nino effect,” said an official of the weather department who didn’t wish to be named.

El Nino is a sea-surface temperature warming event on the Pacific Ocean that often causes drought in Asia-Pacific region, including Australia, South East Asia and India.

Private forecaster like Skymet had predicted the monsoon would arrive early.

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