Indian weather bureau predicts slightly early monsoon

The southwest monsoon, which is the lifeline for India's over 200 million farmers, is expected to break over Kerala on 26 May, five days ahead of the normal onset, the weatherman announced on Thursday.

The annual monsoon rains are expected to reach the Andaman seas around 20 May, five days later than normal, but the India Metrological Department's forecast models indicate a rapid advance leading to an early onset in Kerala. Its analysis suggests a gradual build-up of monsoon flow over the Bay of Bengal and Andaman sea region around 18 May, which will strengthen further.

The met department had on 17 April forecast 96 per cent of average rains this year, encouraging the country's political leaders during election months. An early onset would improve prospects for planting crops such as rice, oilseeds and cotton.

The long-held official date for the four-month summer monsoon is 1 June. It accounts for four-fifths of India's total rainfall, with the weaker northeast or winter monsoon taking care of the rest.

The notoriously ill-equipped IMD, however, was careful to hedge its bets by saying the actual onset could be four days before or after its forecast date. The four-month season typically begins on 1 June.

India's 235 million farmers, who make the country the world's second-biggest producer of rice and wheat, rely on the rainy season to water their farms, as about 60 per cent of the arable land isn't irrigated. Winter-harvested crops, including corn, lentils and soybeans, are planted after the onset of the monsoon.