Children celebrate the first rains of the monsoon (file photo: AFP/Getty)
The monsoon rains finally reached the Kerala coast on Friday, five days later than expected, officials at the weather office said. But the country's only private weather forecaster Skymet rejected the meteorological office’s projections of a drought.
On June 2, India had scaled down this year's monsoon rainfall forecast, citing an El Nino weather pattern, raising fears of the first drought in six years.
According to Reuters, El Nino, an event marked by warmer surface waters in the Pacific Ocean, increases the chance of droughts in the Asia-Pacific region, including Australia, Southeast Asia and India.
Skymet said there would be a good monsoon season this year as the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD) phenomenon counters an El Nino weather event.
"The El Nino threat remains, we do not deny that," Skymet's chief meteorologist, G.P. Sharma, told Reuters. "But the positive IOD effect could bail us out."
The IOD phenomenon is characterised by higher sea-surface temperatures in the Indian Ocean. According to Skymet, this creates a barrier, forcing all the southwesterly winds to blow towards the Indian sub-continent, causing rains there but leading to droughts in parts of Indonesia and Australia.
In the years 1967, 1977, 1997 and 2006, a positive IOD brought adequate rains to India despite the emergence of an El Nino, Sharma said.
Skymet, which says its predictions have been correct for the past three years, forecast rains at 102 percent of the long-term average over the June-September monsoon season, versus the Indian Meteorological Department's (IMD's) 88 percent.
The outlook by Skymet should help allay concerns of farmers who have already been hit hard by unseasonal rains earlier this year.
Some IMD officials, however, said chances of a positive IOD were slim and that El Nino was gaining ground. In 2009, an El Nino contributed to India's worst drought in four decades.
Agriculture accounts for about 15 percent of India’s economy. Monsoon rains are crucial to crop output as about half of the country’s farmland lacks irrigation.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has dismissed fears of a drought, saying rainfall will likely to be deficient only in regions with good irrigation facilities and that there were enough grain stocks to keep food prices in check.