In a relief for the agriculture sector, India is expected to get normal rainfall during the southwest monsoon season despite the evolving El Nino conditions, the India meteorological department said on Tuesday.
The IMD prediction comes just a day after a private forecasting agency, Skymet Weather, predicted "below-normal" monsoon rains in the country.
India has already seen four consecutive years of 'normal' and 'above-normal' rains during the monsoon season.
Normal rain is critical for India's agricultural landscape, with 52 percent of the net cultivated area relying on it. It is also crucial for the replenishing of reservoirs critical for drinking water apart from power generation across the country.
Rainfed agriculture accounts for about 40 percent of the country's total food production, making it a crucial contributor to India's food security and economic stability.
El Nino, which is the warming of the waters in the Pacific Ocean near South America, is generally associated with the weakening of monsoon winds and dry weather in India.
The El Nino conditions this year follow three consecutive La Nina years. La Nina, which is the opposite of El Nino, typically brings good rainfall during the monsoon season.
"India to see normal rainfall during the southwest monsoon season (from June to September). It is likely to be 96 per cent (with an error margin of 5 per cent) of the long-period average of roughly 87 cm," M Ravichandran, secretary, ministry of Earth sciences, said at a press conference.
There is a 67 per cent probability of normal to above normal rainfall, said M Mohapatra, Director General of Meteorology, IMD.
While Skymet had predicted a 20 percent chance of 'deficient' monsoon rainfall, the IMD put it at 16 percent.
Mohapatra said normal to below-normal rainfall is predicted over parts of northwest India, west-central and northeast regions during the southwest monsoon season.
"Normal rainfall is likely over many parts of the peninsular region, adjoining the east-central, east, northeast areas and some parts of northwest India," he said.
The Met department head said El Nino conditions are likely to develop during the monsoon season and its impact may be felt in the second half.
Mohapatra, however, added that not all El Nino years are bad monsoon years and that 40 per cent of the El Nino years in the past (1951-2022) received normal to above-normal monsoon rainfall.
According to the IMD, rainfall between 96 per cent and 104 per cent of a 50-year average of 87 cm is considered 'normal'.
Rainfall less than 90 percent of the long-period average is considered 'deficient', between 90 percent and 95 percent is 'below normal', between 105 percent and 110 percent is 'above normal' and more than 100 percent is 'excess' precipitation.
Studies indicate a stronger inverse relationship between El Nino and rainfall during the second half of the monsoon season.
The senior meteorologist said positive India Ocean Dipole (IOD) conditions are expected during the southwest monsoon season and the snow cover over the northern hemisphere and Eurasia was also below normal from December 2022 to March 2023.
The IOD is defined by the difference in the sea surface temperatures between the western parts of the Indian Ocean near Africa and the eastern parts of the ocean near Indonesia.
A positive IOD is considered good for the Indian monsoon.
Lower snow cover over the northern hemisphere is also considered favourable for the subsequent southwest monsoon rainfall over India.
"If at all there is any adverse impact due to the evolving El Nino conditions during the monsoon season, it is likely to be countered by the favorable impact of positive IOD and the lower snow cover over the northern hemisphere," he said.
India received 971.8 mm of rainfall in the monsoon season in 2019; 961.4 mm in 2020; 874.5 mm in 2021 and 924.8 mm in 2022, according to the IMD data.
The country recorded 804.1 mm of precipitation in the season in 2018; 845.9 mm in 2017; 864.4 mm in 2016 and 765.8 mm in 2015.
Unseasonal rains and hailstorms in March damaged rabi crops in large parts of the country, causing losses to thousands of farmers.
The government, however, said wheat production had not been impacted due to unseasonal rains.
An early onslaught of heat waves impacted wheat production in India last year, prompting the country, the world's second-largest wheat producer, to ban wheat exports in May.
In March this year, the government said the export ban on wheat will continue as long as the country does not feel comfortable with the domestic supplies to meet the food security needs.