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India Needs Better Monsoon Forecasting

Predicting monsoon rains, vital for India’s farm output and economic growth, remains a challenge for the country as its forecasting skills are inadequate, scientists and weather officials said April 13.

“Monsoon is still a mystery phenomenon. It poses a great challenge in forecasting,” Ajit Tyagi, director general of the India Meteorological Department, told the South Asia Climate Outlook Forum in the western Indian city of Pune.

Rainfall in India has often been either much lower or higher than forecasts.

Monsoon forecasts are keenly watched by traders and analysts as 60 per cent of India’s farms depend on rainfall for irrigation and fluctuating output makes India a large buyer or seller of wheat, sugar and rice, influencing global supplies and prices.

Last year, India saw the worst drought in 37 years after initial forecasts of normal rain in the June-September monsoon season.

“Monsoon forecast continues to be a challenge,” said Tyagi, who heads the government’s weather department.

Indian officials say last year’s monsoon season, which began with the driest June in 83 years, was well below forecasts of both government and private agencies.

B. N. Goswami, director of the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, said India’s forecasting skills were poor.

“Our skill in the statistical model is poor. We are trying to develop a real-time dynamic model. Skills of various models of predictions are very poor,” he told Reuters.

Early indications suggest improved rainfall in 2010, raising hopes of a rebound in crop output after the worst drought in 37 years ravaged rice, cane and oilseeds crops in India last year.

Weather officials say weakening of the El Nińo phenomenon, which upsets normal weather patterns, was good for monsoon rains.

“El Nińo is likely to weaken and reach a neutral state by middle of June,” Rupa Kumar Kolli, a climate expert at the World Meteorological Organization, told Reuters on the sidelines of the conference.

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