Delayed Monsoons in South Asia May Hamper World’s Rice Supply


The Indian Meteorological Department reported that annual monsoons, which account for 70% of the rains in India, hit the southern state of Kerala on June 4 instead of the usual June 1. This delayed onset of monsoons, as well as erratic rains from June to September, could possibly prolong the heatwave in South Asia and hit rice production levels.

India is the world’s top rice supplier.

According to research, human-caused climate change is making extreme weather events like heatwaves 30 times more likely to happen than before. In the second half of April, record temperatures were set in parts of Bangladesh and India.

The state-run weather agency forecast normal rainfall for the season despite the threat of El Nino. However, Skymet Weather, a private firm, expects rainfall to be slightly below normal.

El Nino and La Nina are two opposing climate patterns over the Pacific Ocean. La Nina generally brings cooler, wetter weather, while El Ninoa heralds hotter, drier conditions. Climate models globally show a “high chance” of El Nino in June and replacing La Nina.

“We think the monsoon may get delayed and there are several reasons for that are not allowing the currents to set in,” said Mahesh Palawat, vice president of meteorology and climate change at Skymet Weather. “If it gets delayed by four to five days, then the temperature will not subside.”

An anticyclone over the Arabian Sea, as well as cyclone Fabien’s appearance over the Indian Ocean, disrupted the monsoon’s onset. Wind direction over the Bay of Bengal may also deviate in early June according to Palawat. India’s southern regions like Tamil Nadu, Telangana, and Andhra Pradesh may experience a bit of relief but coastal regions such as Kerala and Karnataka are likely to experience heavy rains.

“It’s too early to predict the seasonal rainfall across the central, eastern, and northern parts of the country,” Palawat stated.

“We are transitioning from a La Nina winter to an El Nino summer. This tends to be bad news,” said Raghu Murtugudde, visiting faculty at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay and an emeritus professor at the University of Maryland. “If there is no compensation for El Nino, then the [monsoon] onset may be delayed and we may have quite a big [rainfall] deficit. But the impact on crops could be manageable if the IMD’s prediction of a normal monsoon is right,” he added.

Palawat said that climate change is increasingly impacting the monsoon’s rainfall distribution with more intense rainy days interspersed with dry patches affecting crops. He did add that the overall seasonal rainfall levels could match the previous years.

The World Weather Attribution, an academic collaboration, said that global warming of 1.2 degrees Celsius since the late 1800s has meant that once-in-a-century events like the heatwave over Bangladesh and India are now likely to occur every five years. Scientists also found that if temperatures rise by 2 degrees, then such events could occur every other year. Moreover, the research also showed that such an event in Laos and Thailand would have been nearly impossible without the influence of climate change.

Friederike Otto, Senior Lecturer in Climate Science at the Grantham Institute for Climate Change said, “Erratic rainfall patterns such as the monsoon season can amplify the impact and lead to humid heatwaves. We see again and again that climate change dramatically increases the frequency and intensity of heat waves, one of the deadliest weather events there are. Still, heat action plans are only being introduced very slowly across the globe.”