Two consecutive years of deficient rainfall. Heatwaves that are off the charts, with summer still around the corner. Scores already dead because of the weather. The worst drought in a century in a part of the country where police had to impose prohibitory orders to prevent water riots. India is evidently parched. As the Indian Meteorological Department gets set to release its highly anticipated monsoon forecast, hopes are slowly building for some relief in the form of a normal – if not good – rainy season.
The government, the Indian Institute of Tropic Meteorology and private forecaster Skymet have all predicted a good monsoon, offering hope that the IMD's annual forecast will also bring good tidings.
"The El Nino condition is declining. It is expected that La Nina condition will takeover, and will perhaps favour a good monsoon this year," said Agriculture Secretary Shobhana K Patnaik, on Monday.
On the same day Skymet, the only private forecaster based in in India, also put out its annual monsoon forecast, predicting a better-than-average rainy season.
"According to Skymet Weather, Monsoon 2016 is likely to remain above than the normal at 105% (with an error margin of +/-4%) of the long period average (LPA) of 887 mm for the four-month period from June to September," the private forecaster said.
Skymet's prediction comes with a bit of salt, considering it forecast a normal monsoon in 2015, saying India was likely to get 98% of the Long Period Average – which is the average annual rainfall between 1951 and 2000. The IMD last year gave a completely different prediction, saying the country was likely to face a deficient monsoon.
The final result: 2015's monsoon came in at 86% of the LPA, which officially counts as deficient, and was only the fourth case of two consecutive all-India deficient monsoon years in the 115 years since the IMD began recording this data.
Skymet has nevertheless put out a forecast suggesting this year's rainfall will be 5% above the LPA, with "good amount of rainfall" for Central India and the West Coast.
There is reason to believe that the private forecaster might be closer to the mark as well, this time. Scientists at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology have said that there is a high probability that this monsoon will be better than normal.
"According to the Pune-based institute, there is a 54% probability that rainfall during the monsoon season this year will be 10 mm-per-day more than normal," Mint reported.
All of which leads up to the highly anticipated forecast from the IMD. The monsoon is devilishly difficult to predict, because of all the short- and long-term variables that have to be calculated. Yet it is also crucial for a country where more than two-thirds of agricultural land depends on the rain for irrigation.
The rains literally mean life or death for hundreds of thousands of people, and the resulting effects on the economy could bring down governments and even lead to violence. After two rain-deficient years, India – and the rural economy in particular – desperately needs to hear good tidings from the IMD, amid hope that the clouds live up to their promise.