A detailed district-level study of the southwest monsoon 2023 has unveiled significant variations in India’s annual monsoon weather and rainfall patterns. The study, conducted by Climate Trends and Carbon Copy, found that despite claims of “normal” monsoon rainfall in 73% of the country, district-wise data paints a different picture, including notable reductions in rainfall and increased instances of extreme weather events.
The southwest monsoon 2023 concluded with less than 94% of the long term average (LPA) of normal rainfall, falling short of the predicted 96%. However, July saw an additional 13% rainfall, making up for the 10% deficit in June. Despite a 36% deficit in August, fears of drought were averted due to timely monsoon resurgence triggered by persistent low pressure systems in the Bay of Bengal.
Key findings from report
- Only 6% of the 81,852 district-level daily rainfall observations recorded “normal” rainfall.
- Over 60% of district-wise daily rainfall data showed severe deficiency (more than 60%) or even complete absence of rainfall.
- India experienced the second highest number of heavy rainfall events in the last five years, with rainfall exceeding 115.6 mm.
- August was the weakest performing month, with over 76% of district rainfall days experiencing significant deficit or no rainfall.
- During the monsoon season, the country faced a total of 544 flood and heavy rainfall events.
While normal rainfall occurred in 26 out of 36 meteorological sub-divisions of India, covering 73% of the country’s geographical area, seven sub-divisions observed a deficit and three witnessed excess rainfall.
However, a closer look at district-wise data reveals that only 6% of observations registered as “normal”. This suggests that while normal rainfall is taken as an average over many years, it does not accurately reflect the frequent reality of extreme weather patterns. Almost half of all weekly observations recorded a deficit of at least 20%, indicating that almost two-thirds of district rainfall days received significant reduction or no rainfall at all.
Dr. Madhavan Rajeevan, former Secretary of the Ministry of Earth Sciences and a climate scientist, commented that monsoon variability is definitely on the rise. He highlights that global warming not only increases averages but also extremes. He pointed out that this monsoon will be remembered for its vast spatial and temporal variability, which is characteristic of any year.
Most districts had unusual rainfall
An in-depth district-level examination of the southwest monsoon 2023 has highlighted discrepancies in what is considered “normal” rainfall. Out of 81,852 district-level observations analyzed during the monsoon season, a mere 6% were classified as “normal”.
This data suggests that while normal rainfall is calculated as an average over many years, it often fails to accurately represent the frequent reality of extreme weather patterns. August was a particularly poor-performing month, with over 76% of district rainfall days experiencing significant reduction or no rainfall.
Evaluating the weekly rainfall performance of 36 meteorological sub-stations across India, researchers found that nearly half of all weekly observations recorded a deficit of at least 20%. This finding highlights that significant reduction or no rainfall at all occurred on almost two-thirds of district rainfall days.
Despite the overall monsoon season ending with only 94% of LPA rainfall, the country witnessed the second highest number of heavy rainfall events in the last five years due to extreme rainfall, particularly in July.
Monsoon 2023 saw a variety of extreme weather events including cyclonic storms and heavy rainfall. The season began in June with an extremely severe cyclonic storm named “Biparjoy” which brought exceptionally heavy rainfall over parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat.
A notable anomaly this season was that traditionally dry western regions received relatively heavy rainfall compared to other regions. Conversely, regions like Kerala, Gangetic plains West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and northeastern states, which traditionally contribute significantly to the monsoon, faced deficit rainfall.
El Nino, historically associated with low rainfall over India during the monsoon season, displayed unusual behavior in 2023, affecting rainfall distribution. While experts are currently studying the potential impact of global warming on a global scale, there is a growing consensus that it could increase the amplitude of El Niño events.
More dry days, impacting agriculture
As climate change progresses, deciphering and forecasting the intricate monsoon phenomenon is becoming increasingly challenging. Scientists are investigating the connection between climate change and El Nino, and are striving to comprehend the rapidly evolving patterns of the Indian monsoon.
Abinash Mohanty, Sector Head of Climate Change and Sustainability at IPE-Global stated that Monsoon 2023 is a testament to how irregular, frequent, and prolonged dry days are becoming the new norm, impacting lives and livelihoods, especially in climate-dependent sectors like agriculture.
Dr. Akshay Deoras, a climate scientist at the Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, explained that global warming is not really affecting the occurrence of ENSO events like El Nino and La Nina and they are still occurring at their normal frequency. However, research shows that there is some consensus on climate change increasing the amplitude of El Nino events.
Devinder Sharma, a food policy analyst and agriculture researcher, suggested that authorities should focus on district-wise rainfall variability and forecast it. He highlighted that irregular rainfall patterns observed during monsoon have the greatest impact on agriculture as well as socio-economic impacts.
Aarti Khosla, Director of Climate Trends, pointed out that agriculture depends on 18% of India’s GDP and employs about 50% of its labor force. She emphasized that changing monsoon trends are clearly impacting the economy.
The analysis by Climate Trends and Carbon Copy of monsoon 2023 underscores the need for adaptive measures to tackle climate variability and the increasingly erratic nature of India’s monsoon.
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