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Relax: El Niño is not always bad news!

By ZRG | Last Updated: Friday, April 25, 2014 - 19:56

Zee Research Group/Delhi

The antennas have gone up over reports of a less than satisfactory monsoon this year due to the widely anticipated El Niño effect. But the concern might just be wee bit exaggerated.

While private weather company Skymet has forecast a below normal monsoon for 2014 due to the El Niño effect, an analysis shows El Niño event doesn’t necessarily mean a failure of monsoon in India.

El Niño is a weather phenomenon of abnormal warming of the equatorial Pacific Ocean. El Niño impacts the weather patterns in large parts of the world (including the Asia-Pacific region and beyond). Moreover, the El Niño condition usually happens every two to seven years.
Recently, Skymet has stated that rainfall would be 94 per cent of Long Period Average (LPA) owing to the El Niño effect. Further, it added that there is a 40 per cent chance of below- average rain and 25 per cent chance of drought.

In monsoon terminology, as per the India Meteorological Department (IMD), any rainfall figure between 96 per cent and 104 per cent of the average seasonal rainfall is categorised as a normal monsoon.

Since 1991, of the seven times that an El Niño was experienced, only two of the years were declared as drought ones in the country. Therefore, there is a probability of nearly only 30 per cent that an evolving El Niño condition leads to monsoon failure.

The concern though is not completely misplaced. During the period under review, 2002, and 2009 were both El Niño as well as drought years. While rainfall was nearly 19 per cent below normal in 2002, it was nearly 22 per cent below normal in 2009.
Interestingly, there were instances when rains have been normal despite El Niño’s presence. In 1994, despite its impact, rainfall was 12.5 per cent above normal. Similarly, in 1997 (strong El Niño year), rainfall was nearly 2 per cent above normal.

A Nirmal Bang (domestic brokerage firm) report also highlighted that not every El Niño event has led to weakening of monsoon in the past. The report stated, “During the period 1901-2009, there were 26 El Niño years. Out of these, in 11 cases the rainfall was deficient or below 90% of LPA, in 12 cases it was above 90%-100% of LPA and only thrice it led to rainfall of above 110% of LPA (El Niño was believed to be weak during these years).”

Hence, as per the above report there is a 42 per cent chance that an evolving El Niño condition leads to deficient rains in India.

While India faced one of the severest droughts in 2009 (El Niño year) when rains were deficient by a huge 22 per cent of LPA, foodgrain output fell by just 6.8 per cent. Further, Indian sugar production plunged by more than 10 million tonnes in 2009-10 and experts believe that was "mainly" due to a turn away from cane by farmers amid a high level of payment arrears from mills.

Exhibit: Impact of El Niño on India’s monsoons

First Published: Friday, April 25, 2014 - 19:48
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