Photographer: Arun Sankar/AFP via Getty Images

El Nino Seen Arriving Too Late to Hurt India's Monsoon Rains

  • Models indicate El Nino may occur in later part of 2017
  • Above normal temperatures may affect wheat crop yields

India’s monsoon may escape the effects of a possible El Nino event that can bring dry weather to the world’s top cotton grower and second-biggest wheat and sugar producer.

“Mostly it may not have any impact on rains” because the El Nino probably won’t develop until later this year, said D.S. Pai, head of the long-range forecasting division of India Meteorological Department. “As of now it’s not indicating. There will be clarity when more information is available in April and May.”

Forecasters globally have been increasing odds that El Nino will develop this year as temperatures in the Pacific Ocean rise. Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology issued an El Nino “watch” on Feb. 28, indicating the likelihood of the pattern forming this year is about 50 percent. Six climate models suggest thresholds may be reached by July. The U.S. Climate Prediction Center raised its odds to 50 percent by the end of the year, while Malaysia puts a 50 percent chance of development between September and November. The 2015-16 El Nino was the strongest since the record event of 1997-98.

A late El Nino may miss India’s monsoon season that runs from June through September, accounting for more than 70 percent of rain and watering more than half of all farmland. Rainfall was normal in 2016 following two years of deficit that curbed output of sugar cane, wheat and pulses. The good monsoon rains encouraged farmers to expand crop planting and the government predicts India’s grain harvest will reach an all-time high on record rice, wheat and pulses production.

Click here to read more: India struggles to cut dependence on fickle monsoon

Farmers are watching the rain and temperature outlooks, especially for wheat crops that are to be harvested from this month. Wheat production will probably fall short of a government forecast, spurring imports, according to a Bloomberg survey published last month.

India’s Meteorological Department said last week that above-normal temperatures are likely across India from March to May after 2016 was the warmest year since 1901. While weak La Nina conditions have been prevailing over the Pacific Ocean since July, forecasts indicate the pattern will weaken and reach neutral levels during the pre-monsoon season, it said.

“Any temperature that is above normal will have a direct bearing on the crop, be it north or central India,” said G.P. Sharma, a former president of India’s Skymet Weather Services Pvt. “The crop needs cooler temperatures and a spell of rain also. The combination of the two decides the size of grain and yield.”

Hailstorms are likely in parts of the northern states of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana for two days starting Thursday, according to the India Meteorological Department. Temperatures rose in the northern parts of the country in the second half of February, according to the department.

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