IMD monsoon forecast overweighing El Nino – Skymet CEO

June 3, 2015

People run to take shelter during a heavy monsoon shower in New Delhi August 28, 2014. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/FilesIndia has cut this year’s monsoon forecast to 88 percent of the long-term average, prompted by the El Nino climate phenomenon and raising fears of the country’s first drought in six years. This makes India’s agriculture sector vulnerable with nearly half of farmland lacking irrigation.

Private weather forecaster Skymet has, however, maintained that India will receive normal monsoon rains this year.

On June 3, Skymet CEO Jatin Singh joined the Trading India Forum, a live webchat hosted by Thomson Reuters where members from the financial industry interact. Singh shared his views on the monsoon and why the India Meteorological Department (IMD) forecast may be incorrect.

Here are edited excerpts from Singh’s responses in the chatroom. Any opinions expressed here are those of Singh and not of Thomson Reuters.

Q: Why is there such a huge discrepancy between your estimates and that of IMD. IMD says there will be a drought and you say it will be a normal monsoon?

A: I don’t know why they did it. But we are sticking to 102 percent of the LPA (long period average).

Q: What about El Nino being neutral like it was about seven years ago?

A: Enso (El Niño Southern Oscillation) is not neutral. There is a well established El Nino in the Pacific.

Q: Can you tell us whether we will have good monsoons this year?

A: Yes. So far we think the monsoon will be OK.

Q: Any reason for sticking to your forecast despite the contrary view from the IMD, America and Australia?

A: You see, foreign institutions don’t understand monsoon.

Q: How frequently would you keep updating your forecasts?

A: I think we will take a call sometime in July. June and July look OK. Markets will feel better in the second half of June.

Q: What are the parameters to ascertain that the monsoon is normal and do we have timelines for it?

A: There are multiple parameters. There are two techniques. Statistical and Dynamic.

Q: Which method does Skymet use?

A: We use both. And they are converging.

Q: What do foreign agencies use?

A: Foreign agencies are too El Nino dependent.

Q: But what about the IMD?

A: Ask them. I think this IMD forecast is overweighing El Nino.

Q: Do you think the monsoon could be sluggish?

A: I think the monsoon is irregular but not sluggish. On day three, it is 33 percent of the normal. It will slow and then pick by the seventh or so.

Q: How about distribution? Do you see excessive or scanty rains in certain regions or would it be evenly spread out?

A: Distribution is hard to keep a finger on. But in normal years, east India is failing more often. Some parts.

Q: By what time can we say with certainty that the monsoon is normal? Can you give a range of dates and percentage of precipitation received or anything like that?

A: Confirmation will come by mid-July.

Q: What is the level (in terms of date or percentage of rainfall) where you would admit you were wrong?

A: Below 95 percent of LPA. Our model error is plus/minus 4. But when and if it goes below normal, that is 95, it will be wrong.

Q: Would there be a long pause like last year, after the beginning of the monsoon?

A: This year, I don’t expect extended dry spells. I don’t think a dry spell in the 2015 monsoon should last any more than five to seven days.

Q: The stark differences between you and IMD are very interesting. We just hope you come out right.
A: We too. I think IOD will insulate us from the El Nino.

Q: What is IOD?

A: Indian Ocean Dipole. The IOD refers to phenomena in the equatorial waters of the Indian Ocean. It is defined by the difference in the sea surface temperature between the two areas – a western pole near the Arabian Sea and an eastern pole closer to the Bay of Bengal. If the sea surface temperature of the western end rises above normal and becomes warmer than the eastern end, it leads to a positive IOD. This condition is favorable for the Indian monsoon and carries the potential to somewhat neutralize the adverse effect of El Nino.

Q: But the heating of Indian Ocean is good from monsoon perspective right?

A:  Yes. Heating of the western Indian Ocean.

Q: By when do you see the monsoon reaching north India?

A: Between June 11 and 14.

Q: Is that the usual time?

A: Late by a week or so.

Q: So most kharif crops should do well, right?

A: Yes. May be bumper. Post drought, in a normal year, cereal production is known to improve dramatically.

Q: Any final thoughts, Jatin?
A: It’s too soon to come to conclusions on drought. Hold your horses.

(Trading India chat hosted by Savio Shetty. Transcript edited by Sankalp Phartiyal and Tony Tharakan. Follow Trading India on Twitter @TradingIndia, Savio @abeautifulmind7, Sankalp @sankalp_sp and Tony @TonyTharakan. This article is website-exclusive and cannot be reproduced without permission)

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