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Why IMD’s rain math doesn’t add up

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Each blue bar represents the actual rainfall recorded by a district as a percentage of its normal. There are 614 district recordings in this chart.. The red dotted line is the 100% mark, and many of the bars end below, or way below, this mark. This is the district-level view of cumulative rainfall over eight rain weeks using the IMD's own data.

Each blue bar represents the actual rainfall recorded by a district as a percentage of its normal. There are 614 district recordings in this chart.. The red dotted line is the 100% mark, and many of the bars end below, or way below, this mark. This is the district-level view of cumulative rainfall over eight rain weeks using the IMD’s own data.

Over eight weeks of recorded monsoon rain, the district-level data available with the India Meteorological Department (IMD) portrays a picture that is very different from its ‘national’ and ‘regional’ advice about the strength and consistency of rainfall.

In its first weekly briefing on the monsoon of August 2014, IMD said: “For the country as a whole, cumulative rainfall during this year’s monsoon (01 June to 30 July 2014) has so far upto 30 July been 23% below the Long Period Average.” Out of 36 meteorological sub-divisions, said the IMD, the rainfall has been normal over 15 and deficient over 21 sub-divisions.

The four regional readings that make IMD's data look less worrisome than it actually is.

The four regional readings that make IMD’s data look less worrisome than it actually is.

However, here is a far more realistic reading of the monsoon season so far, from the IMD’s own data. For the 614 individual readings from districts that have regular rainfall readings, we have the following: 86 districts have registered scanty rainfall (-99% to -60%); 281 districts have registered deficient rainfall (-59% to -20%); 200 districts have registered normal rainfall (-19% to +19%); and 47 districts have registered excess rainfall (+20% and more).

What this means, and the chart I have provided to illustrate the 614 individual values leaves us in no doubt, is that 367 out of 614 districts have had meagre rain for eight weeks. This also means that over eight weeks where there should have been rainfall that – as the IMD predicted in early June – would be around 95% of the ‘long period average’, instead three out of five districts have had less than 80% of their usual quota.

The new measure of monsoon

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Districts reporting monsoon data, over two weeks, colour-coded under a revised categorisation (explained in the text) for weekly rainfall. The left bar in each pair is the second week, the right bar is the first. Most districts are coloured light red, signifying rainfall much below the weekly normal. Peach is for the lesser deficient category. Green is normal. The two blue hues - lighter and darker - are for the two excess categories. It is immediately apparent that 485 out of 618 reporting districts (78%) have experienced less rainfall than they should have at this stage of the monsoon.

Districts reporting monsoon data, over two weeks, colour-coded under a revised categorisation (explained in the text) for weekly rainfall. The left bar in each pair is the second week, the right bar is the first. Most districts are coloured light red, signifying rainfall much below the weekly normal. Peach is for the lesser deficient category. Green is normal. The two blue hues – lighter and darker – are for the two excess categories. It is immediately apparent that 485 out of 618 reporting districts (78%) have experienced less rainfall than they should have at this stage of the monsoon.

The changes that we find in the patterns, trends, intensity and quantity of India’s monsoon now require an overhaul in the way we assess what is satisfactory or not for environmental and human needs. India’s summer monsoon is already late, and where it is late but active it is weak. The indications from the central earth science agencies (including the India Meteorological Department), from the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, from the National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting are that it will be the end of June before the summer monsoon system settles over central India and the western Gangetic plains. Even so, it will be a relief from the searing temperatures but will not assure sowing conditions for farmers and cultivators, nor will it add to the stores of water in major and minor reservoirs.

In this commentary written for India Climate Portal, I have explained why IMD’s hoary top level categorisation of rainfall weekly quantities in the subdivisions must be replaced, both for what they describe and for how frequently they are described. These currently are: ‘normal’ in a subdivision is rainfall that is up to +19% above a given period’s average and down to -19% from that same average; likewise excess is +20% and more, deficient is -20% to -59% and scanty is -60% to -99%. The ‘normals’ are calculated based on the mean weekly rainfall for the period 1951-2000 with monitoring done in 641 districts distributed amongst the 36 meteorological subdivisions.

By categorising rainfall ‘normals’ and departures from  ‘normal’ to become more administratively impelling – these proposed corrections also simplify the interpretations possible for rainfall above and below ‘normals’ – greater awareness and preparedness of administrations, key agencies and citizens to the deficiencies of monsoon can be fostered. For the district tables below therefore, I have re-cast the categories as follows (all based on the long-term average provided by IMD): Normal in a district is +5% to -5%; Deficient 1 is -6% to -20%; Deficient 2 is -21% and more; Excess 1 is +6% to +20%; Excess 2 is +21% and more.

Whereas, for the same second rainfall week the IMD categories were ‘No Rain’ in 80 districts, ‘Scanty’ in 241 districts and ‘Deficient’ in 130 districts, under the proposed revision they will simply be ‘Deficient 2’ with 449 districts – thereby showing dramatically how widespread the conditions of the late and weak monsoon 2014 are – and ‘Deficient 1’ with 36 districts. Please read the rest at India Climate Portal.