El Nino Effect on India, Monsoon and Rainfall

El Niño’s Effect on India and Indian Monsoon, Rainfall

What is El Nino and what is the El Nino Effect on India? This article discusses the El Nino effect on Monsoon, Rainfall and Indian Economy.

  1. What is El Niño?
  2. Impact on Monsoon & Economy
  3. Historical Impact of El Nino



Q] What is El Niño? How and Where does El Nino Occur?

  • When the surface temperature of the Pacific Ocean increases above the average, for a prolonged period of time, it is defined as “El Nino”. During El Nino, surface temperature of the Pacific Ocean increases by over 0.5° Celsius. “La Niña” is the reverse phenomenon; when the surface temperature of the Pacific Ocean cools below the average temperature.
  • El Niño and La Niña typically last for nine to twelve months, although they can even last up to four years.
  • Usually El Nino starts to form between June and August. El Nino (and La Nina) usually reach their pinnacle between December and April and start to fade away between May and July.
  • Typically El-Nino occurs in intervals of two to seven years. El Nino occurs more often than La Nina.
  • El Niño is also known as “El Niño Southern Oscillation” (ENSO).


Dry river bed of River Dracha in Lahaul and Spiti district in HP





What is the El Niño Effect on India’s Monsoon & Economy?

  • Effect of El Niño in India is that India may receive below normal rainfall. El Nino caused droughts in India in 2002, 2004 and 2009. Over half of the major droughts in India the last 140 years have coincided with El Nino (please see para on Historical Impact of El-Nino).
  • In case 2014 rainfall was below normal. This impacted the “Kharif” (July to October) crop, leading to reduced food production. Reduced agricultural activity has an effect on other aspects of the economy, especially India’s rural economy. Many Indian industries (textile, construction, power, etc) are dependent on water; hence El-Niño can have an adverse impact on the Indian economy.
  • This example from previous El Nina years will give the readers some idea on the impact of El Niño on agriculture and food production – Pulses grown during the “Kharif” season are heavily dependent on rain. During the 2002, 2004 and 2009 El Niño years, Indian production of pulses during the “Kharif” season was lower by 14, 23 and 27 per cent respectively.
  • Since El- Niño affects global rainfall, global output of food grains maybe impacted. This may increase food prices all over the world.
  • Another effect of El Nino is that there is an increase in incidents of mosquito related diseases, such as malaria, dengue, etc.
  • Globally, Western part of South America gets more rain and warmer weather during El Nino, whereas South Asia, South-East Asia, Eastern Africa and Australia receive less rain fall than average. 1997 – 1998 experienced the worst El Nino in recent years; it is estimated that 24,000 people died in climate related events related to the El-Nino.
  • This is an example of how El-Nino in other parts of the world has an impact on India – India imports agricultural products, such as palm oil from South East Asia (especially Malaysia). If Malaysia experiences El Nino related drought, prices of agricultural produce, such as palm oil, may go up. This may also have an adverse impact on other commodity prices too. Prices of crops such as sugarcane, rice, coffee, wheat, etc, that are grown in large quantities in South Asia and South East Asia are expected to go up.
  • Typically, La-Nina tends to be beneficial for India. 2009 – 2010 was an El Niño year which caused a below normal monsoon in India (23% below normal). 2010 – 2011 was a La Niña year, where the South-East monsoon was prolonged and India received above average rainfall.



How does El Nino Impact Mumbai and Maharashtra?

  • If El Niño leads to reduced rains in Mumbai, the Mumbai lakes may not fill up to their capacity. This can lead to water cuts in the city of Mumbai.
  • El-Nino tends to increase the incidences of mosquito related illnesses. Almost half of Mumbai’s population lives in slums, where sanitation conditions are not good. These factors increase the possibility of a Malaria or Dengue outbreak in Mumbai, during the Monsoon season.


Photo of Drought in Karnataka in India, in 2012.



Past Historical Impact of El Nino on Rainfall levels in India

In the 20th and 21st century there were 27 occurrences of El Nino –  1902-1903, 1905-1906, 1911-1912, 1914-1915, 1918-1919, 1923-1924, 1925-1926, 1930-1931, 1932-1933, 1939-1940, 1941-1942, 1951-1952, 1953-1954, 1957-1958, 1965-1966, 1969-1970, 1972-1973, 1976-1977, 1982-1983, 1986-1987, 1991-1992, 1994-1995, 1997-1998, 2002-2003, 2004-2005, 2009-2010, 2014-2015.

Historical data from the “Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology” shows the following:

  • From 1870 to 2016, there have been 24 El Nino years when rainfall in India has been below the average. During this period, there have been only 5 El Nino years when rainfall has been above the average.
  • From 1870 to 2009, there have been 20 La Nina years when rainfall in India has been above the average. During this period, there have been only 2 La Niña years when rainfall has been below the average.
  • From 1870 to 2010 India had 24 major drought years – 1873, 1877, 1899, 1901, 1904, 1905, 1911, 1918, 1920, 1941, 1951, 1965, 1966, 1968, 1972, 1974, 1979, 1982, 1985, 1986, 1987, 2002, 2004, 2009.
  • Of these 24 drought years, 13 occurred during years that coincided with El Nino (1877, 1899, 1905, 1918, 1951, 1964, 1968, 1972, 1982, 1987, 2002 and 2009). Over half the times that India has experienced drought since 1870 have been in El Nino years.







  • Dry river bed Darcha, HP: Image by Anks. Image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0). Image has been altered. Original image at https://www.flickr.com/photos/anks/2937505134/in/photostream/
  • Drought in Karnataka: Image by Pushkarv. Image taken from Wikimedia Commons. Image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Image has been altered.



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