India rains to be above average for first time in six years: officials

MUMBAI (Reuters) - India is likely to receive above-average monsoon rains in 2019 for the first time in six years as seasonal rainfall continues longer than expected, two senior weather department officials told Reuters, in a boon for the country’s cooling economy.

Slideshow ( 2 images )

Extra rainfall will help farmers expand areas under winter-sown crops such as wheat, rice rapeseed and chickpea, improving their earnings down the line and helping revive tepid rural demand that has stung Indian economic growth.

The longer monsoon could also restock reservoirs and help replenish ground water, helping assuage water shortages in pockets of the country of 1.3 billion people.

But heavy rainfall could also damage summer-sown crops like cotton, soybean and pulses that are close to harvest, especially if it rains heavily in a short period of time.

The monsoon delivers about 70% of India’s annual rainfall and determines the yield of rice, wheat, sugarcane and oilseeds, such as soybeans. Farming accounts for about 15% of India’s $2.5 trillion economy but employs more than half of its people.

“Above average rainfall is very likely. With expectation of heavy rainfall in few pockets in next two weeks, we can cross 104% mark,” said an official with the India Meteorological Department (IMD) on Friday, declining to be named as he was not authorized to speak with media.

The IMD defines average, or normal, rainfall as between 96% and 104% of a 50-year average of 89 centimeters for the entire four-month monsoon season beginning June.

The last time India saw above-average rainfall was in 2013.

The monsoon season in 2019 saw a bleak start with the driest June in five years and a below-average July, suggesting an initial prediction for below-normal rainfall from the country’s only private forecaster, Skymet, could come to pass.

The weather department too had said in May that rains this year would amount to 96% of the long-term average.

But August saw heavy rains, floods in some states, and the strong monsoon stretched into this month. Rains usually start to withdraw in the first week of September.

A low-pressure system developing in the Arabian Sea could bring even more rains to the western states of Maharashtra and Gujarat and delay the monsoon’s withdrawal, the official said.

India could receive 20% and 99% above-average rains in the weeks of Sept. 26 and Oct. 3, respectively, said another weather department official.

“Even in the first week of October we are expecting above average rainfall,” the official said.

Water levels in India’s main reservoirs were at 85% of their storage capacity as on Sept. 19 against 74% a year earlier, government data shows. The average for the past 10 years is 70%.

Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav; Editing by Alexandra Ulmer and Himani Sarkar