Rains Failing Over India: Feeble 2014 Monsoon Heightens Concerns That Climate Change is Turning A Once-Green Land into Desert

El Nino has yet to be declared. Though signs of the Pacific Ocean warming event abound, they are still in the early stages. But for all the impact on the current Indian Monsoon — the rains this vast sub-continent depends on each year for a majority of its crops — the current pre-El Nino may as well be a monster event comparable to 1998.

For the rains that have come so far have been feeble. By June 18, precipitation totals were more than 50% below the typical amount by this time of year for northern and central India and 45% below average for the country as a whole. A stunted Monsoon that many are saying is about as weak as the devastatingly feeble 2009 summer rains. And with Pacific Ocean conditions continuing to trend toward El Nino, there is concern that this year’s already diminished rains will snuff out entirely by mid-to-late summer, leaving an already drought-wracked India with even less water than before.

Through June 25th, the trend of abnormally frail monsoonal rains continued unabated:

India Monsoon June 25, 2013India Monsoon June 25, 2014

(India cloud cover on June 25, 2013 [left frame] compared to India cloud cover on June 25 of 2014 [right frame]. Note the almost complete lack of storms over India for this year compared to 2013 when almost the entire country was blanketed by rains. Image source: LANCE-MODIS.)

India’s Rain Pattern Has Changed

It’s not just that 2014 is a bad year for India. It’s that the current weakened monsoon comes at the tail end of a long period in which the rains have increasingly failed. Where in the past it took a strong El Nino to stall the rains, ever-increasing human atmospheric and ocean warming have pushed the threshold for Monsoonal failure ever lower. Now even the hint of El Nino is enough to set off a dry spell. A growing trend of moisture loss that is bound to have more and more severe consequences.

A new study by Stanford University bears out these observations in stark detail. For the yearly monsoon that delivers fully 80 percent of India’s rains has fallen in intensity by more than 10% since 1951. And though a 10% loss may seem relatively minor, year on year, the effects are cumulative. Overall, the prevalence of dry years increased from 1981 to 2011 by 27% and the number of years experiencing 3 or more dry spells doubled.

Meanwhile, though a general drying trend has taken hold, rain that does occur happens in more intense bursts, with more rain falling over shorter periods. These newly intensified storms are more damaging to lands and homes, resulting in both increasing destruction of property while also greatly degrading the land through more intense erosion.

25 Percent of India’s Land is Turning to Desert

Loss of annual monsoonal rains is coming along with a dwindling of water flows from the melting Himalayan glaciers. These two climate change induced drying effects are already having stark impacts.

For according to the Indian Government’s Fifth National Report on Desertification, Land Degradation and Drought, a quarter of India’s land mass is now experiencing desertification even as 32 percent is suffering significant degradation due to heightening dryness and erosion. This amounts to more than 80 million hectares of land facing desertification while more than 100 million hectares are steadily degrading. The report also noted that areas vulnerable to drought had expanded to cover 68% of the Indian subcontinent.

From the report:

Desertification and loss of biological potential will restrict the transformation of dry lands into productive ecosystems. Climate change will further challenge the livelihood of those living in these sensitive ecosystems and may result in higher levels of resource scarcity.

Monsoonal Delay, Weakening Continues

India daily rainfall

(India daily rainfall as of June 26, 2014. Image source: India Monsoon.)

By today, June 26, the long disrupted and weakened monsoon continues to sputter. Moisture flow remains delayed by 1-2 weeks even as the overall volume of rainfall is greatly reduced. Though storms have exploded over some provinces, resulting in flash flooding, much of the country remained abnormally dry. Overall, preliminary negative rainfall departures remained at greater than 40% below average for most of the nation with only five provinces receiving normal rainfall and the remaining 31 receiving either deficient or scant totals.

 

Links:

LANCE-MODIS

National Drought Fears Loom as India Receives Deficient Rainfall

India’s Rain Pattern Has Changed: Researchers Warming of Future of Extreme Weather

A Quarter of India’s Land is Turning Into Desert

India Monsoon

Monsoon at Dead Halt

Hat Tip to Colorado Bob

 

 

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18 Comments

  1. james cole

     /  June 26, 2014

    Unlike the Indian situation, the clouds and rain seem fixed above America’s Upper Midwest forever. All winter was snowfall after snowfall, spring brought cold and rainfall after rainfall. Now summer is bring record rainfall scattered across various locations on a near daily basis. What weather pattern is producing this? I am resident here for over 50 years, and I have never seen or heard of rainfall events like these from Dakotas to Minnesota. I believe a locality recorded 6 inches of rain in just a few short hours two days ago. Rainfall predicted for the weekend. This pattern has lasted 6 months!

    Reply
    • Arctic sea ice loss is producing it. The Pacific blocking pattern is producing it.

      We have a dipole where a high amplitude ridge shoves storm systems up into the Arctic from the Pacific Ocean. Those same systems gorge on atmospheric instability and cold air as they plunge south over Canada and into your region.

      Intercepting them is a Pacific moisture flow colliding with warm, moist air coming from the Gulf of Mexico. The resulting trough sucks the Pacific to Arctic storms down into it and over your region. The storms explode due to the combined moisture flows.

      You, my friend, are on the storm side of the mangled Jet Stream.

      Reply
    • Mark from New England

       /  June 26, 2014

      James, in addition to all the damage the flooding is doing, living in such constant rain and gloom is depressing. Best wishes to you and yours in making it through this. I suspect that as time goes by none of us posting in this blog will escape unscathed from one extreme weather event or another; whether it be flooding, droughts, hurricanes, blizzards, ice storms, dust storms, etc.

      Reply
  2. Yes, India withers, and that Pacific blocking pattern is entrenched, amazing. The jet stream is a “ghost of its former self”. So it goes in the US West & Southwest… and the weather vice tightens. Thanks for the post, Robert, and Bob.
    – Fruit and vegetable prices going up as California drought continues.
    “… Although the department is sticking with its overall forecast that U.S. food prices will increase by up to 3.5% this year over last, it cautioned that the cost of meat, dairy, fruit and vegetables will jump.
    California farmers produce half of the nation’s fruits and vegetables, and most of its high-value crops such as broccoli, tomatoes and artichokes.
    But the rising cost of water has forced farmers to idle about 500,000 acres of land and produce less, making certain foods more expensive.
    …The department now expects 2014 U.S. fresh fruit prices to jump by up to 6%, up from its May projection of about 4%. A devastating citrus disease in Florida also sent citrus prices up 22.5% this year.
    Drought conditions in states like Texas and Oklahoma have also driven up beef prices 9% this year, and the department expects that hike to continue.
    http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-fruit-and-vegetable-prices-california-drought-continues-20140625-story.html

    Reply
    • Thanks for this DT. It’s a rough year for ag all around. Skirting very bad. But not quite there yet. Let’s hope it’s another near miss.

      Reply
  3. As usual, superior information expertly presented.

    Reply
  4. Bernard

     /  June 26, 2014

    Not just above ground, also below:

    “Groundwater serves as a vital buffer against the volatility of monsoon rains, and India’s falling water table therefore threatens catastrophe. 60 percent of north India’s irrigated agriculture is dependent on ground water, as is 85 percent of the region’s drinking water. The World Bank predicts that India only has 20 years before its aquifers will reach “critical condition” – when demand for water will outstrip supply – an eventuality that will devastate the region’s food security, economic growth and livelihoods.”

    I’m guessing the “20 years” is with normal monsoons.

    http://thediplomat.com/2014/04/indias-worsening-water-crisis/

    Reply
  5. Dear Robert, there are a number of important consequences arising from the delay of monsoon 2014 over India (and South Asia). The central government in India, main media outlets (press and television), and administrations in the states have so far focused on the impact on agriculture (demanding relief measures) and on food prices (valid, but such concerns exist independently of the strength of a monsoon), and on water for drinking and irrigation (valid too, but based on a set of readings from the biggest dams as we do not know storage estimates of the myriad tanks and water storage structures in the districts). I have mentioned some of the problems of measurement, perception and treatment of the monsoon in posts such as The New Measure of Monsoon
    North India 2014, Much Dust More Heat Less Rain
    and Weighing the Monsoon Winds For El Nino ,
    which you may find of interest.

    Reply
  6. Harry

     /  June 27, 2014

    Robert, terrific stuff as alway. OT but I wanted to seek your opinion. It seems that there has been a freakish amount of hailstorms of late. Is this a function of polar air escaping from the Arctic due to fractured jet streams and mingling at high altitudes with the warmer air of southern latitudes? Or is there something else going on?

    Reply
    • Increasing atmospheric moisture loading and increasing convection heighten cloud tops and intensify precipitation. The heightening clouds also inject more moisture into colder layers of the atmosphere. The overall result in an increasing instance of hail and more severe hail. Effects can be magnified for regions under the general storm track.

      Where are you located?

      Reply
      • Harry

         /  June 28, 2014

        Hi Robert. Thanks for answering this. I’m located in the UK. There was hail forecast for this morning actually but we’re not really a hail hotspot. I’ve just noticed an astounding quantity of hail episodes popping up in the news of late and wondered what was going on.

        Reply
  7. A quick update on El Nino…

    Over the last few days the Eastern Equatorial Pacific has cooled somewhat dramatically. The difference seems especially pronounce between 2014-06-23 00:00 UTC and 2014-06-27 00:00 UTC. The World Meteorological Organization suggests this may be due to the especially warm temperatures of May 2014.

    Please see:

    The WMO suggests that this warmth may be slowing the development of the El Nino and that it is this consequential delay that may weaken its impact: “One explanation for the lack of atmospheric response so far may be that the sea surface temperatures are above average across virtually the entire tropical Pacific, not just in the eastern and central portions. This may be maintaining west-to-east temperature differences more typical of neutral conditions,” the announcement states.

    However, it is worth noting that this WMO suggestion apparently runs counter to the conclusions of peer reviewed research published in Nature last year that warned higher temperatures associated with climate change would actually result in twice the number of more powerful El Ninos in the future (see our report here).

    WMO: El Nino Delayed By Record May Temperatures, ReportingClimateScience.com, 2014-06-26

    A positive Indian Ocean Dipole Mode Index (DMI) promotes El Ninos, negative La Ninas. The most recent monthlies appear to be March and April. Both are small, but March is negative, April positive.
    Jan: 0.03404999 Feb: -0.1043282 Mar: -0.09913445 Apr: 0.08900833

    The Pacific Decadal Index has been positive for the first five months of 2014 with each month higher than the previous month. PDO values were 0.30, 0.38, 0.97, 1.13, and 1.80. When the Pacific Decadal Oscillation is positive strong El Ninos are more likely.

    The 30-day Southern Oscillation Index is currently positive which favors La Ninas. It peaked in on 2014-06-13 of this month at a value of 31.28
    and is currently at 2.43. However, the past six daily Southern Oscillation Index values have been negative: with each of the past three being more negative than the immediately previous. The past six daily values have been -4.57, -11.53, -6.26, -13.78, -20.60 and -24.25 (2014-06-27). If the next two daily values are simply equal to the last the 30-day Southern Oscillation Index will turn negative at a value of -0.59 on 2014-06-29.

    If anyone has a source for DMI that is more current please let me know.

    Reply
  8. Monsoon expected in North India by July 5; 80% deficient rainfall in Gujarat, Rajasthan

    “The national cumulative average of rainfall in June is deficient by a whopping 42 per cent, making it only the 12th instance in the past 113 years when rain shortfall was over 30 per cent in the month, according to a private forecasting agency.

    States like Gujarat and Rajasthan have over 80 per cent of deficient rain.”

    http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/monsoon-expected-in-north-india-by-july-5-80-deficient-rainfall-in-gujarat-rajasthan/?SocialMedia

    Reply
  9. Rajkumar Ranjan Singh

     /  June 30, 2014

    Deficient rainfall of about 25% to 56% in and around the landscape of MANIPUR , Nagaland and Mizoran may effect the livelihood of the native people. The concern Government departments may alert urgently to mitigate the impact of global climate change and abuse of land in the region.

    Reply
  10. Unless I’m mistaken the moonsoon has been faltering in recent years even without El Nino – and is predicted to potentially alter later – we just need it to be “worse and sooner” than expected… just another domino falling.

    Reply
  1. Human Hothouse Death Toll Climbs to 2300 in India, Monsoon Suppressed, Delayed | robertscribbler

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