Nature of Indian Monsoon

Systematic studies of the causes of rainfall in the South Asian region help to understand the causes and salient features of the monsoon, particularly some of its important aspects, such as:

  • The onset of the monsoon.
  • Rain-bearing Systems and Rainfall Distribution
  • Break in the monsoon
  • Retreat of the Monsoon

Onset of the Monsoon

The differential heating of land and sea during the summer months is still accepted as the primary cause of monsoon rainfall in Indian sub-continent. As a result of rapid increase of temperature in May over the north-western plains, the low pressure conditions over there get further intensified. By early June, they are powerful enough to attract the trade winds of Southern Hemisphere coming from the Indian Ocean. These southeast trade winds cross the equator and enter the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea, only to be caught up in the air circulation over India. Passing over the equatorial warm currents, they bring with them moisture in abundance. After crossing the equator, they follow a south-westerly direction (as shown in figure 1). That is why they are known as southwest monsoons.

The rain in the southwest monsoon season begins rather abruptly. One result of the first rain is that it brings down the temperature substantially. This sudden onset of the moisture-laden winds associated with violent thunder and lightning, is often termed as the “break” or “burst” of the monsoons.

The monsoon may burst in the first week of June in the coastal areas of Kerala, Karnataka, Goa and Maharashtra while in the interior parts of the country; it may be delayed to the first week of July. The day temperature registers a decline of 5°C to 8°C between mid-June and mid-July.

If after 10th May, 60% of the available 14 stations enlisted report rainfall of 2.5 mm or more for two consecutive days, the onset over Kerala be declared on the 2nd day.

Rain-bearing Systems And Rainfall Distribution

As these winds approach the land, their south-westerly direction is modified by the relief (topography) and thermal low pressure over the northwest India. The monsoon approaches the landmass in two branches, the Arabian Sea branch and the Bay of Bengal branch. First originate in the Bay of Bengal causing rainfall over the plains of north India. Second is the Arabian Sea current of the southwest monsoon which brings rain to the west coast of India.

Monsoon Winds of the Arabian Sea
The monsoon winds originating over the Arabian Sea further split into three branches:
• One of its branches is obstructed by the Western Ghats. These winds climb the slopes of the Western Ghats from 900-1200 m. Soon, they become cool, and as a result, the windward side of the Sahyadris and Western Coastal Plain receive very heavy rainfall ranging between 250 cm and 400 cm. After crossing the Western Ghats, these winds descend and get heated up. This reduces humidity in the

Indian Monsoon

  • As a result, these winds cause little rainfall east of the Western Ghats. This region of low rainfall is known as the rain-shadow area.
  • Another branch of the Arabian Sea monsoon strikes the coast north of Mumbai. Moving along the Narmada and Tapi River valleys, these winds cause rainfall in extensive areas of central India. The Chotanagpur plateau gets 15 cm rainfall from this part of the branch. Thereafter, they enter the Ganga plains and mingle with the Bay of Bengal branch.
  • The third branch of this monsoon wind strikes the Saurashtra Peninsula and the Kachchh. It then passes over west Rajasthan and parallel to the Aravalis, causing only a scanty rainfall. In Punjab and Haryana, it joins the Bay of Bengal branch. These two branches, reinforced by each other, cause rains in the western Himalayas.
  • The intensity of rainfall over the west coast of India is, however, related to two factors:
    • The offshore meteorological conditions.
    • The position of the equatorial jet stream along the eastern coast of Africa.

Monsoon Winds of the Bay of Bengal

The Bay of Bengal branch strikes the coast of Myanmar and part of southeast Bangladesh. But the Arakan Hills along the coast of Myanmar deflect a big portion of this branch towards the Indian subcontinent. The monsoon, therefore, enters West Bengal and Bangladesh from south and southeast instead of from the south-westerly direction. From here, this branch splits into two under the influence of the Himalayas and the thermal low is northwest India. Its one branch moves westward along the Ganga plains reaching as far as the Punjab plains. The other branch moves up the Brahmaputra valley in the north and the northeast, causing widespread rains. Its sub-branch strikes the Garo and Khasi hills of Meghalaya. Mawsynram, located on the crest of Khasi hills, receives the highest average annual rainfall in the world.

Tamil Nadu does not receive rainfall during south-west monsoon as Tamil Nadu coast is situated parallel to the Bay of Bengal branch of southwest monsoon and it lies in the rain-shadow area of the Arabian Sea branch of the south-west monsoon.

Break in the Monsoon

During the south-west monsoon period after having rains for a few days, if rain fails to occur for one or more weeks, it is known as break in the monsoon. These dry spells are quite common during the rainy season. These breaks in the different regions are due to different reasons:

    • In northern India rains are likely to fail if the rain-bearing storms are not very frequent along the monsoon trough (low pressure region) or the ITCZ over this region.
    • Over the west coast the dry spells are associated with days when winds blow parallel to the coast.

Retreat of the Monsoon

The months of October and November are known for retreating monsoons. By the end of September, the southwest monsoon becomes weak as the low pressure trough of the Ganga plain starts moving southward in response to the apparent southward march of the sun. The monsoon retreats from the western Rajasthan by the first week of September. It withdraws from Rajasthan, Gujarat, Western Ganga plain and the Central Highlands by the end of the month. By the beginning of October, the low pressure covers northern parts of the Bay of Bengal and by early November, it moves over Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. By the middle of December, the centre of low pressure is completely removed from the Peninsula.

The retreating southwest monsoon season is marked by clear skies and rise in temperature. The land is still moist. Owing to the conditions of high temperature and humidity, the weather becomes rather oppressive. This is commonly known as the ‘October heat’. In the second half of October, the mercury begins to fall rapidly, particularly in northern India.

The weather in the retreating monsoon is dry in north India but it is associated with rain in the eastern part of the Peninsula. Here, October and November are the rainiest months of the year. The widespread rain in this season is associated with the passage of cyclonic depressions which originate over the Andaman Sea and manage to cross the eastern coast of the southern Peninsula. These tropical cyclones are very destructive. The thickly populated deltas of the Godavari, Krishna and Kaveri are their preferred targets. Every year cyclones bring disaster here. A few cyclonic storms also strike the coast of West Bengal, Bangladesh and Myanmar. A bulk of the rainfall of the Coromondal coast is derived from these depressions and cyclones. Such cyclonic storms are less frequent in the Arabian Sea.