What do the rain gods have in store for Bengaluru?

Bangalore saw thunderstorms early this week. Pic: Shree D N

In the past month, the weather in namma Bengaluru has taken several dramatic turns. Only a few weeks ago, folks in the city were commenting on how hot Bangalore had become, and how horrible it was to step out during the day. People who have been in the city long enough to truly appreciate the weather were nostalgic about the wonderful weather in the mornings, the lovely showers in the evenings and the marvelously pleasant nights.

A week ago Bangalore was witness to something akin to thunderstorms with wind speeds reaching 70 km per hour – according to the MET department that was only the pre-monsoon showers. Why, there were even hailstorms in parts of the city like Banashankari. After this, once again a brief dry spell, and the rain came back with a bang, uprooting many trees in various parts of the city.

It’s raining hailstones in Bangalore (May 26th). Pic: Deepa Vaishnavi

Ashwin, a Sales Manager with Zomato who moved from Chennai to Bangalore in end-April said, “When I arrived in Bangalore, I was missing the AC in my house. And now with the rains, it looks like I need to buy new pullovers.”

What do the weather gods have in store for namma Bengaluru this monsoon season? Will we get good rains? Will we have sufficient drinking water? And what about agriculturists in the city outskirts – will they need to look for other water sources? Citizen Matters finds out.

What effect will El Nino have?

Across the world, there is some semblance of panic about El Nino. El Nino, which translates to ‘the boy’ in Spanish, refers to the increase in the sea water temperature by two to three degrees over the Pacific Ocean. When the sea surface temperature (SST) increases, it influences the monsoon. In some parts of the world such as Peru and Ecuador, the El Nino causes heavy rainfall and major flooding. In India, there is a chance that an El Nino episode can trigger a bad monsoon.

B Kuttana, Director at the Meteorological Department said that in 2014, India would get reduced rainfall during the south-west monsoon, between June and September as a result of El Nino and that whenever there was a strong El Nino, the country as a whole, experiences reduced rainfall. However, he adds that this does not happen on all occasions. In 2009, while the country did not receive much rain, Karnataka received excess rainfall.

He added that India could expect 95% of the long-period rainfall during June to September this year, and there would only be a 5% reduction in the average rainfall. He also clarified that all advance predictions about the weather and rainfall are incorrect to some extent and that we may end up getting normal rainfall after all.

Pavan Srinath, a policy researcher at The Takshashila Institution who also runs the blog Know Your Climate, says, “While it is true that the El Nino affects the monsoon, it is not a one-to-one correlation. We have had horrible El Nino years, where India has been untouched and we have the El Nino years that have been drought years for India; we have also have had drought years, where there has been no El Nino at all. While El Nino could be a bad thing, how bad it could be this year, is still up in the air.”

Impact of EL Nino and La Nina on the Indian monsoon in the past decade

Year

Occurrence

Impact

Monsoon*

2004

El Nino

Drought

88%

2005

Neutral

Normal

101%

2006

Neutral

Normal

103%

2007

La Nina

Excess

110%

2008

La Nina

Above normal

105%

2009

El Nino

Severe Drought

79%

2010

La Nina

Normal

100%

2011

La Nina

Normal

104%

2012

Mild El Nino

Below Normal

92%

2013

Neutral

Above normal

106%

*Monsoon as a percent of 50-year average. Source: Skymet

How is it likely to be in Karnataka?

Kuttana says that Karnataka typically gets more than normal rainfall. Though north and interior Karnataka get less rainfall, coastal Karnataka and the Malnad region see heavy rain. He also adds that a five or ten percent reduction in the amount of rainfall is not likely to make much of a difference.

He explains: “The south-west monsoon will go on for four months – from June to September. Coastal areas and the Malnad region can expect rains during these months everyday. In Bangalore, we will get strong winds and clouding. Temperatures will be comfortable. In June, Bangalore will get less rain – the normal amount is about 8 cm. From July onwards, we can expect good rains. Bangalore will get more rain in September-October”. He also clarifies that there could be day-to-day changes depending on the low pressure area, and other parameters affecting the state.

Is there any cause for alarm?

While there doesn’t seem to be much cause for immediate alarm as yet, there are concerns. Though the monsoon usually sets in around the first week of June (as per predictions, the Met department stated that it would be making landfall in Kerala on June 5th), the month of May has traditionally been steady for Bangalore and typically gets about 4 to 5 inches (10 to 12 cm) of rain.

Progress of the southwest monsoon 2014. Pic: http://www.imd.gov.in

Kuttana said that the long-period average for the city in May is about 11.6 cm (50-year average), and the city has received only 7.4 cm in the month this year. Pavan Srinath adds, “Bangalore’s summer this year, in April and May, has been the driest in about 20 years; certainly in the bottom two-three years. The rainfall in May has been much lesser. It has been a bad month, and that’s a point of alarm. Because May gives us more rainfall, than after the monsoon sets in – June is a drier month than May for a city like Bangalore. So that’s a reason for concern. Now, more so than ever, it is vital that Bangalore see a good monsoon, considering that the summer has been quite bad.”

Bangalore is likely to have sufficient drinking water

The Krishna Raja Sagar reservoir in Mysore provides drinking water to the city of Mysore and most parts of Bangalore city as well. As on May 27th 2014, the water level in the KRS reservoir stood at 74.79 feet. At full storage capacity, the water level rises up to 124.8 feet, with the total storage capacity being 49.45 tmcft (thousand million cubic feet). Typically during the month of August, the reservoir reaches full storage capacity.

The officials at the Water Resource Department stated that they were not really perturbed about the effects that El Nino could have on the monsoon. Padmaprasad, a Technical Assistant with the Water Resources Department said that while they certainly acknowledge that the EL Nino could have an impact on the rainfall, they are not too worried about it as there would be sufficient water once the monsoons started. He also mentioned that even if it did not rain at all, there was sufficient drinking water for Bangalore up to June 2014.

Pavan says that when it came to Bangalore’s water supply, it was the rainfall over Wayanad and Coorg that mattered more than the rainfall in Bangalore, because the city’s water came from there. and that was what we should be keeping an eye on.

However, for the areas not covered by Cauvery water supply, borewells and tankers are the lifeline. And the amount of rainfall is what matters the most in such areas.

What does the monsoon spell for Bangalore?

Kuttana had this to add: “Bangalore is a big city with a large population. There will certainly be water problems. The city cannot manage only with natural rainwater or by digging borewells. For that matters, where is rainwater harvesting being done? It is a cement forest everywhere with roads and buildings. Groundwater is not sufficient. One has to depend on piped water. For that government has to make arrangements.”

All predictions about the weather and rainfall are risks, not certainties. Pavan says, “We should do things in a way so that it mitigates the risk. In case the risk materialises, it should hurt us very little.” Farmers are likely to be in trouble in case the monsoon is not up to par, since they will have to rely a lot more on ground water, and that is already at risk. For city residents, however, while things may look more brown, and there may be less greenery, it is unlikely that water supply will be affected since the city is also dependant on two other places for water – 80% from Cauvery and 20% from Arkavathi.

While El Nino looms over our heads, there is not too much information about how much it could affect Bangalore. Pavan adds, “It is important for us not to become too negative. It’s also important to note while some prediction may say that India will receive less than normal rainfall, Bangalore might just receive normal or higher rainfall than it usually does. Even in drought years, there are places in the country where there are terrible floods. The good thing about Bangalore is that it is never that nasty. So we have to wait and watch. We should also ensure that there is rain water harvesting. We should ensure that we are best prepared.”

So dear readers, be prepared. Use water sparingly. Turn off the taps when not in use. Harvest rain water and help recharge groundwater. Whatever the weather gods have planned for us, Bangalore will meet head-on.  

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About Ganga Madappa 77 Articles

Ganga Madappa is a Staff Reporter and the Community Manager at Citizen Matters. She loves cats and books and travel. She tweets at @pulicatmonster and blogs at Random Rambling.