India May Get Below-Normal Rainfall Amid Increasing El Nino Odds

The monsoon in India, which provides most of the annual rainfall, will be below normal this year amid a 60 percent chance for the emergence of an El Nino that previously caused droughts, the country’s forecaster said.

Rain will probably be 95 percent of a 50-year average of 89 centimeters (35 inches) in the June-September period, the India Meteorological Department said in a statement on its website. Actual rainfall may be 5 percent more or less than the prediction, it said.

The season is crucial for crops from sugar to rice and cotton as more than 50 percent of the nation’s farmland is rain-fed, making monsoons the main source of irrigation for India’s 235 million farmers. Less-than-normal precipitation can curb farm output, lower rural incomes and hamper a rebound in the country’s economic growth from near the lowest in a decade, while spurring inflation.

“If it is below-normal rainfall, the monsoon-sown crops output may drop and agriculture GDP may close down to zero if not negative,” said Sonal Varma, an economist at Nomura Holdings Inc. in Mumbai. “There could be some threat to food inflation.”

India’s consumer-price index accelerated 8.31 percent in March from a year earlier, quickening for the first time in four months, says the Central Statistics Office. The economy grew 4.9 percent in the year ended March 31, after a decade-low expansion of 4.5 percent, the Statistics Ministry estimates.

Pacific Warming

“The sub surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific have warmed to the levels generally observed prior to an El Nino event,” the department said. “Latest forecast from a majority of the models also indicate warming trend in the sea surface temperatures over the equatorial Pacific reaching to El Nino level during the southwest monsoon season with a probability of around 60 percent.”

Showers between 96 percent and 104 percent of the average are considered normal by the department. The probability of normal monsoon is 35 percent, while that for a below normal monsoon is 33 percent, it said.

Farmlands in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, the Maldives, Myanmar and Afghanistan will most probably get below-normal to normal rainfall amid consensus among experts about the possibility of the El Nino during the June-September monsoon season, the South Asian Climate Outlook Forum said in a statement in Pune, India, yesterday.

“There is strong consensus among the experts about the possibility of evolution of an El Nino event during the summer monsoon season,” the forum said. “However, it is recognized that there is uncertainty in the intensity of the El Nino. There is also consensus about the potential for adverse impacts of El Nino on the monsoon rainfall over the region.”

El Nino Odds

Signs have been detected that El Nino is imminent, presaging changes to global weather patterns in the months ahead, the World Meteorological Organization said last week. The chances that an El Nino will develop are growing, the U.S. Climate Prediction Center said this month, boosting the odds to 65 percent from 52 percent. The weather pattern may develop by July, according to Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology.

El Ninos occur irregularly every two to seven years and are associated with warmer than average years. They tend to lead to abnormally dry conditions over parts of Australia, the Philippines and Indonesia. Their counterpart, La Ninas, are associated with cooler years.

Forecasts at this time of year aren’t always accurate, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said in an April 13 report. Even if El Nino emerges as predicted, the impact can vary, it said.

The weather event has not always resulted in weak monsoons in India and mitigating factors this year may include comfortable reservoir water levels and excess food grain stockpiles, Rohini Malkani and Anurag Jha, Mumbai-based analysts at Citigroup Inc., said in a report last month.

Record Crops

Production of food grains from rice to wheat, lentils and corn in India is seen at a record 263.2 million metric tons in the year ending June after more than normal monsoon and cooler winter boosted yields, according to the Agriculture Ministry.

Disruptions associated with El Ninos globally have been most important for palm oil, cocoa, coffee and sugar, Goldman Sachs said in its report.

“Oilseeds, lentils, sugarcane and cotton are the major crops that could be in trouble in India,” said Prerana Desai, research head at Kotak Commodity Services Ltd. in Mumbai. “Last year, soybeans were damaged due to late rains. Damage to the crop for two consecutive years will be a matter of worry.”

India received normal or more-than-normal rains during only three El Nino years out of the past 10 occurrences, while the remaining were drought years, according to data from the meteorological department. Monsoon rainfall was the least in almost four decades in 2009, when El Nino occurred last, data show. Rice and oilseed harvests fell 10 percent, Agriculture Ministry data show.

“While pre-monsoonal showers in May look favorable, the main monsoon season has a drier-than-normal bias this season,” Commodity Weather Group LLC said in a report dated April 21. “The main areas of concern are sugarcane and soybean areas. Rains are closer to normal in much of the peanut and rice areas but the concern is that if El Nino comes on stronger and faster, more areas are in danger of below normal rains this season.”

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