Southwest monsoon on India's doorstep

·4 min read

India's southwest monsoon season is quickly approaching as the country recovers from a surge in new coronavirus cases in addition to two direct hits from tropical cyclones during the month of May.

The leading edge of the southwest monsoon advanced across central Sri Lanka between May 27 and 29, according to the India Meteorological Department (IMD).

While the southwest monsoon typically arrives on June 1 in the southernmost portion of India, AccuWeather forecasters say the monsoon is running slightly behind schedule.

"The southwest monsoon onset remains stalled over northern Sri Lanka, but conditions look favorable for the monsoon to reach Kerala around June 3," AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist and Lead International Forecaster Jason Nicholls explained.

People wearing masks as a precaution against the coronavirus try to make their way through a water logged street during heavy rain in Mumbai, India, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020. India's monsoon season runs from June to September. (AP Photo/Rajanish Kakade)

On average, the monsoon gradually spreads from southeast to northwest across India throughout the month of June then into parts of Pakistan during early July.

The monsoon season typically lasts from June to September and brings the bulk of annual precipitation. Some locations, like Mumbai, average as much as 2,200 mm (87 inches) of rainfall.

According to AccuWeather Lead International Meteorologist Jason Nicholls, the monsoon's advance is expected to be relatively steady with a few of the usual surges and stalls. The leading edge should clear most of India and enter Pakistan by mid-July.

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"Rainfall during June should be near to above normal in many areas, but it can be drier than normal in northwestern India," said Nicholls.

However, by July or early August, drier conditions may develop from Kerala and Karnataka in the southwest to Odisha and West Bengal in the northeast, which can cause rainfall amounts to fall below normal for the season.

Nicholls added, there is potential for this dryness to spread into parts of Tamil Nadu and northwestern India as well as the neighboring countries of Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

Dryness in northwestern India during the end of the season as well as a later start to the monsoon can cause rainfall totals in parts of northern Gujarat and Rajasthan to fall well below normal.

According to Nicholls, the southwest monsoon accounts for about 70% of India's annual rainfall. The monsoonal rains help to replenish water supply reservoirs, create hydropower and drive the agricultural industry, which employs about half of the population.

The increased moisture and precipitation can also increase cloud cover which helps to drop temperatures across the country. Precipitation and periods of gusty winds can improve the air quality compared to the dry months.

While the monsoon can bring beneficial rain to the country, the rounds of torrential rain can cause flash flooding, mudslides and washouts as well as knock over trees that can damage homes, create power outages and cut off rural communities.

Multiple funeral pyres of victims of COVID-19 burn at a ground that has been converted into a crematorium for mass cremation in New Delhi, India, Saturday, April 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)

The monsoon also brings more thunderstorms with frequent lightning strikes, which can lead to deaths with many working outside and no opportunity to seek shelter in hazardous weather.

Hundreds of people have been killed each year amid the monsoon downpours.

Additional factors can also complicate the monsoon season this year.

India is still recovering from an aggressive second wave of coronavirus cases that struck the region and set grim, new world records.

As of Tuesday, more than 330,000 deaths due to the coronavirus have been reported in India and the number of confirmed cases is more than 28.1 million, according to Johns Hopkins. The COVID-19 death toll in India surged past the 300,000 mark on May 24, making the country just the third in the world to reach the grim milestone. According to Reuters, 100,000 of those fatalities have occurred over the last three weeks.

On May 6, India reported a daily record of 414,188 new cases, according to Johns Hopkins University. The highest number of deaths in a day occurred on May 18 with 4,529 reports.

Army soldiers evacuate people from a flooded area to safer places as Cyclone Yaas makes landfall at Ramnagar in Purba Medinipur district in the eastern state of West Bengal, India, May 26, 2021. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri

The surge of coronavirus cases in India was complicated by cases of mucormycosis, informally known as "Black Fungus."

Areas of flooding during the monsoon season may prevent residents from reaching hospitals, slow down the distribution vaccines and cause medical facilities to close.

Coastal communities in Gujarat are still recovering from a direct hit from Cyclone Tauktae during the middle of the month, as well as in Odisha and West Bengal where Cyclone Yaas made landfall last week.

An increase in tropical activity in the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea typically bookends the southwest monsoon season.

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