Weather predictions have the same chances of going wrong as a farmer’s guess and the farming space remains shrouded in uncertainty.

This is that time of the year when the farmer realises how excruciatingly slushy his fields are. The weather has been abnormal, almost like a whirlwind of turbulence that leaves hopes dashed and dreams shattered. Those not dependent on farming are enjoying a cool March and April, while the farmer bears the brunt of these strange weather patterns. Crops have been destroyed by storms and hail amidst predictions that life for the farmer is going to get more tough. The monsoons have been affected by the El Nino patterns in the Pacific Ocean.

For centuries, people have looked to the skies for signs of rain during the monsoons. The word is derived from the Arabic word Mausim meaning season. Monsoons are important because most of the rainfall, precipitation and humidity takes place happens in June-September, when moisture-laden winds from the Indian Ocean bring rain to the hinterland. These winds come from the Bay of Bengal in the east and the Arabian Sea in the west.

Sixty per cent of India’s farms are rain-fed and it is crucial for farmers, food production and India’s prosperity that rains come when they are needed for crops to be sown on time. Monsoons, however, are not consistent by any standards. They are erratic over 35 per cent of the time and require forecasting. In any event they always fail in some part of India every year and missing monsoons cause droughts in varied degrees once every six years. It is not uncommon for one region of the subcontinent to face floods while another is experiencing a drought at the same time. It is also not necessary that every drought is accompanied by a drop in food production.

El Nino is an intriguing phenomenon that occurs more than 10,000 kilometres away on the other side of the globe, when surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean rise over several months. These are associated with subsequent changes in wind patterns above the Pacific, impacting weather across the world and even in India. Every year there are reports connected to El Nino pattern formations and Indians are warned of dire consequences. However, every El Nino formation on the Pacific Ocean does not lead to a drought or failure of monsoon.

Weather-modelling suggests that every drought is associated with the El Nino formation at play. This simply means that El Nino is one important factor but may not be enough on its own to generate conditions for a drought. Normal rainfall is known to take place even when El Nino conditions are recorded. At the end of the day, weather predictions have the same chances of going wrong as a farmer’s guess.

No one knows what is coming. My guess is that this will be a normal year and we desperately hope for that to be true.