The monsoon rains in India, which provide more than 70 per cent of the annual rainfall, will most likely be below normal on the back of a possible El Nino, which previously caused droughts, top government officials said.

Rains this year may be below 95 per cent of a 50-year average of 89 cm (35 inches) in the June-September period, three officials with direct knowledge of the matter said. They requested not to be identified before an official announcement of monsoon forecast by India Meteorological Department (IMD) on Thursday. The officials are not allowed to speak to the press before the ministry of earth sciences puts out a statement, as it impacts the market.

This paper quoted a Bloomberg report on Tuesday referring “two government officials” that monsoon will be normal, despite the El Nino factor. When contacted by Financial Chronicle for that report, Met officials had refused to either confirm or deny the Bloomberg report.

On Wednesday the South Asian Climate Outlook Forum, a group of global weather experts affiliated to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), released a consensus statement saying below-normal to normal rainfall is most likely over South Asia as a whole during the 2014 monsoon season.

The consensus outlook map for 2014 southwest monsoon rainfall over South Asia showed 75-80 per cent of India receiving below-normal rains, the weather forecasters said. The outlook was developed through an expert assessment of the prevailing global climate conditions and forecasts from different climate models from around the globe.

El Nino leads to an unusual warming of waters in the eastern and central Pacific Ocean, which is known to cause droughts in Asia, including India. According to IMD, rainfall between 96 per cent and 104 per cent of a 50-year average of 89 cm for the entire June-September season is considered normal, or average. India faced droughts due to below-average rainfall in 2009 and prior to that in 2004 and 2002.

When asked to comment on the forecast map for 2014 southwest monsoon rainfall over South Asia, D Sivananda Pai, India’s chief monsoon forecaster at IMD, merely said, “Good.” He said one should wait until Thursday for the specific monsoon forecast for India.

“There is a strong consensus among weather forecasters about the possibility of El Nino adversely affecting monsoon rains in India, which will most likely be below normal as has been clearly depicted in the map,” a senior government official told this paper on condition of anonymity. Ruling out any escape from below-normal rains, he said, “We better save available water and restrict its use.”

“This will be the fourth straight year of drought for Karnataka,” a senior government delegate told the 50-member weather forecasters from eight South Asian countries, including international experts from the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, USA; National Centres for Environmental Prediction, USA; Met Office, UK; Japan Meteorological Research Centre and the Apec Climate Centre, Korea.

“This advanced forecast will help many to take measures to save existing water and use it cautiously,” another official said. IMD’s Pai admitted that El Nino would have an impact, but said out of the 14 El Nino years since 1951, monsoon was below-normal in India on eight occasions and normal or above normal on six. “Below-normal rainfall will impact agriculture adversely in India, as 70 per cent of it is rain-fed and there is no alternative for irrigating the summer crops,” Madan Sabnavis, chief economist at Credit Analysis and Research in Mumbai told Financial Chronicle. Agriculture accounts for 14 per cent of Asia’s third-largest economy, with most Indians living in rural areas.

He said oilseeds, sugarcane and cotton crops would be impacted adversely due to less rainfall, and rice crops partly. “This will have implications also on the overall inflation and GDP growth. Inflation will be affected by higher prices on account of supply shortfall as well as higher expected minimum support price,” Sabnavis said. For South Asia as a whole, Pai said the monsoon rainfall in June through September 2014 would most likely be below-normal to normal.

The South Asian Climate Outlook Forum released a statement after the fifth session, saying “below-normal rainfall is likely over broad areas of western, central and southwestern parts of South Asia and some areas in the northeastern-most parts.”

The weather forecasters and international experts met at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology (IITM) in Pune from April 14 through 23 to prepare the consensus report for South Asia. “There is a strong consensus among the experts about the possibility of evolution of an El Nino event during the summer monsoon season,” the statement said. “Normal rainfall is likely over broad areas in northwestern and eastern parts, and some island areas in the southernmost parts of the region.” However, the forecasters recognised that there was uncertainty over the intensity of the El Nino event. “There is also consensus about the potential for adverse impacts of El Nino on the monsoon rainfall over the region. But, other regional, global factors can also affect rainfall,” they said.