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Monsoon faces fresh El Nino threat

LiveMint logoLiveMint 01-03-2017 Prerna Kapoor

New Delhi: Once again the Indian monsoon is under the shadow of the weather phenomenon known as El Nino.

There is a 50% chance of El Nino occurring later this year, the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (ABM) said.

Consequently, once again Indian agriculture, which suffered two back-to-back droughts (2014-15, 2015-16) will be beset by uncertainty. Farmers in parts of India have been in the grip of a drought for a third year. Any impact on agricultural production can potentially also have a fallout on food inflation.

The good news though is that this time El Nino is expected to kick in only by September, by which time the summer monsoon is in its final leg. And, normally, it also means excessive rains during the north-east monsoon, which commences in winter.

ALSO READ | IMD forecasts hotter-than-normal summer in weather outlook

EL Nino is a weather condition which develops due to excessive warming of the Pacific Ocean—disrupting the build-up of the monsoon and often leading to drought-like conditions. To be sure though, there is no one-to-one correlation.

During El Nino years, the south-west monsoon brings poor rains in India but the north-east monsoon brings normal or above-normal rain

“The Bureau’s ENSO (El Niño–Southern Oscillation) Outlook status has been upgraded to El Niño WATCH, meaning the likelihood of El Niño in 2017 is approximately 50%,” ABM said in its ENSO outlook on Tuesday.

According to an India Meteorological Department (IMD) forecast, currently, weak La Nina (the opposite of El Nino) conditions—or cooling of the Pacific Ocean—have been prevalent since July 2016. Weak El Nino conditions, the forecast added, will start occurring only by the end of September, which means that they won’t affect the south-west monsoon which occurs during the June-September period.

Strong El Nino years are usually associated with normal to above normal rain during the north-east monsoon which occurs during October to December. “Strong El Nino years are associated with flood-like conditions during the time of the north-east monsoon, but we are too far to predict that now,” an IMD official who did not wish to be identified said.

The last El Nino conditions occurred in 2014 when India received 12% excess rain during the north-east monsoon but 22% below-normal rain during the south-west monsoon.

Other international agencies like the Japanese national forecaster ‘JAMSTEC’ (Japan’s Agency for Marine Earth Science and Technology) and America’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have also predicted the possibility of El Nino in the second half of 2017.

NOAA, in its latest bulletin on 9 February, declared that La Nina has ended and that sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific Ocean have returned towards normal.

In January, JAMSTEC predicted a weak El Nino occurring in the second half of 2017, but at the same time said that a positive Indian Ocean Dipole (the difference in sea surface temperature between two areas—a western pole in the Arabian Sea and an eastern pole in the eastern Indian Ocean) may set in, which would neutralize the adverse effects of the weak El Nino in the Pacific Ocean, leading to a good south-west monsoon in India.

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