India is possibly facing a late and dry south-western monsoon, with meteorologists warning of a delayed onset and dry spells, especially in many regions in the north.
The first batch of monsoonal rains hit south India last week, but their progress over the northern region and the north-west has been erratic, experts say.
“The seasonal forecast is that the monsoon is normal, but going by its initial occurrence it could be sluggish as it moves up,” says Roxy Mathew Koll, a climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology.
“A delayed progress might aggravate water and food security of those regions in the north.”
Farmers in the region would normally start preparing their fields for sowing around the first week of June, with anticipated rains around 10 June, but their progress may be delayed.
After a sweltering summer marked by unprecedented heatwaves that began in early March with deficit rainfall, reports of an early onset of the south-west monsoon came as a relief to the southern state.
Many are hoping that the rains will also provide relief from the intense summer heat that has hit the wheat crop and triggered a power crisis as temperatures jumped to record highs in north India in March and April.
March 2022 was the warmest March month in the last 122 years, while April 2022 was the fourth-warmest April month in the same time period with temperatures in north India recording over 50 degrees Celsius.
Experts mapping the monsoon, however, point out rainfall has remained light to moderate over southern Kerala with isolated instances of heavy rain.
“The south-westerly winds are not very strong and the normal monsoon surge is not what we expected,” according to Skymet Weather, a private Indian weather forecast service.
Waiting for rain
The Skymet Weather team points out that the monsoon may remain behind schedule for the western state of Maharashtra. The central parts of the country including Chhattisgarh, Odisha and East Madhya Pradesh may also experience delays for their first monsoon showers.
Although Delhi and neighbouring regions in the north are normally hit with monsoons between 25-30 June, they may be waiting another month for more continuous rainfall.
The south-west monsoon spread over June to September is the primary rainy season in India.
Most of the country – except the southern peninsula, Jammu and Kashmir, and Assam – receives more than 75 percent of its annual rainfall during this period.
The monsoon rainfall has a direct bearing on crops across the country. Agriculture and allied sectors such as forestry and fishing account for 14 percent of India's gross domestic product but employ more than half of the Indian workforce.
India was hit with two deficient monsoons in 2014 and 2015, but has received consistent rainfall since 2016.
A lot will depend on its progress and, more importantly, uniform distribution of the rains across the country in the next two months.
"There are early good signs but one will have to take it with some degree of caution. It is critical to see how the monsoon progresses and spreads across various parts of the country," says economist Vijay Vyas.