Understanding the Monsoon, preventing major catastrophes

The Indian Monsoon. Photo: Shutterstock

The Indian Monsoon. Photo: Shutterstock

Close to half of the global population depends on the Monsoon season. In India, four months of Monsoon bring 70 percent of annual rainfall, while the rest of the year is a dry season. With global warming, the Monsoon is changing, breaking well-established “rules” of the phenomenon and thus becoming more unpredictable. This causes uncertainty, not only in planning of agricultural activities, but also significant loss of assets from natural disasters.

Climate change effects on the Monsoon

“The Monsoon is changing with climate change. In particular, on the eve of the Monsoon, on May 22, 2019, the temperature in Vidarbha in Central India reached a record value of 47.8 degree Celsius. This is the region of my forecast - the hottest place in India. Please note, Vidarbha is not a desert. It is a highly populated district and in rural areas, most of the population has no access to air conditioning facilities. Moreover, the Monsoon began its retreat from the boundary with Pakistan 39 days later than the normal date. It was the most delayed Monsoon withdrawal ever recorded,” says Professor Elena Surovyatkina from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK).

Living with the Monsoon depends on reliable predictions

Prior knowledge of the dates of the Monsoon onset and withdrawal is of vital importance in India for the planning of agricultural activities, water and energy resources, and disaster management.

Since 2016, Professor Elena Surovyatkina has successfully been predicting the onset and withdrawal of the Indian Summer Monsoon for the central part of India. This early and unique forecast is delivered to the Indian population via media and local newspapers. It enables taking appropriate decisions at various levels, from farmers' fields to the Government of India.

“Forecasting the onset and the withdrawal date becomes even more important since risks of floods affect millions of people. This information is crucial for disaster management, planning the agriculture season, managing water resources during the cultivation that can save the water, prevent damages to the infrastructures and carrying out preventive measures in the system of dams in order to prevent floods,” says Professor Elena Surovyatkina.

A new understanding of the Monsoon is therefore urgently needed to identify if the 2019 Indian Summer Monsoon season was an exceptional case or if it will be a persistent future trend. In the latter case India needs to reconsider the strategy of the Monsoon action plan and disaster management.

Understanding the changes: Work of the International Monsoon Study Group

From October 2019 to January 2020, the Monsoon Forecasting Team led by Professor Elena Surovyatkina, organized an International Monsoon Study Group (IMSG) under Climate Change at PIK. Participants included Monsoon experts and students working in different research areas of Monsoon dynamics. The objective of the group was to investigate complex dynamical processes during the Monsoon season and analyse climate change effects. The main focus of the study is forward looking on a long-term forecast of the onset and withdrawal of the Indian Summer Monsoon for the central part of India, which is led by Professor Elena Surovyatkina since 2016 and showed to be successful already four years in a row. The long-term forecast means 40 days in advance for the onset date, and 70 days in advance for the withdrawal date.

This study is a part of the “East Africa Peru India Capacities (EPICC)” project (www.pik-potsdam.de/epicc) which overreaching goal is to strengthen resilience against disruptive weather phenomena and climate change at the national, regional and local levels in three partner countries: India, Peru and Tanzania. The project is funded by the International Climate Initiative (IKI) and implemented by PIK, together with its project partners The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) and the Deutscher Wetterdienst (DWD; German Meteorological Service).

“Based on the success of the three-month program of the IMSG, PIK will continue its collaborative research with the participants of the IMSG and plan further extension of our Monsoon Study Group”, says Professor Elena Surovyatkina.

The work of the Monsoon Study Group will help to predict the Monsoon more accurately in the future, which would allow the population of India to benefit from the positive effects of the prediction and mitigate extensive damage.

For more information on the monsoon forecast please visit the PIK-Monsoon-Page: https://www.pik-potsdam.de/services/infodesk/forecasting-indian-monsoon