This Year’s Budget – Not a Gamble on the Monsoon?

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On 4 April 2011, I had written a post entitled “The Indian Budget is a Gamble on the Monsoon”: Who Said It? Here is an extract from that post:

“The Indian budget is a gamble on the monsoon” is a clichéd statement that has been made repeatedly for more than a hundred years. Even very recently, when Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee presented the budget for the fiscal year 2011-12 to the Indian parliament, he had to invoke the blessings of Lord Indra, the god of rain, although he did not precisely call his budget a gamble.

The gamble comes into the game because of four factors:
(1) the Indian fiscal year begins on 1 April and ends on 31 March of the next year,
(2) the budget for the fiscal year has to be prepared by February end,
(3) the southwest monsoon arrives over the country on 1 June on an average, and
(4) it has never been possible to make a successful prediction of an all-India drought.

Today, however, when  India’s new Finance Minister Arun Jaitley read out his budget proposals for the remainder of the fiscal year 2014-15, the situation was very different from that in 2011-12.  For once, the budget had not been presented three months before the expected arrival of the monsoon, but 5 weeks after its actual arrival. In April itself there were indications that the monsoon would be weak this year and this was confirmed in early June on the basis of more substantive data.

I am neither an economist nor a political analyst. But I have a simple question for my more knowledgeable readers: Is there a hint, or perhaps more than a hint, of an impending weak monsoon having been factored into the budget? Had there been no threat of the developing El Nino, no predictions of subnormal rainfall, no 40% deficit in June rainfall, would the budget have been bolder or tougher, or would the road map have been different?

Takio Murakami as I knew him


1999 photo of Takio Murakami. He passed away in 2013 at the age of 92.

1999 photo of Prof. Takio Murakami

“We are going to flatten the Himalayas and see what will happen to the Indian monsoon! We will be cooling the Indian Ocean to find out if the monsoon will go dry!” The words were coming from a short-statured man speaking with great enthusiasm and confidence. The year was 1968. The place was the open verandah of Ramdurg House where the Institute of Tropical Meteorology was situated in Pune. The speaker was standing in front of a blackboard with just a chalk in his hand and manipulating the monsoon seemed like a child’s play to him. He was Takio Murakami. He had come to spend a year at ITM (it became IITM in 1971) and was giving a preliminary talk before ITM scientists, spelling out his ideas about the Indian monsoon.

I was listening to the talk as a recently recruited scientific assistant. My job in ITM was to help scientists do their research. But I was fascinated by Takio Murakami. I was in my early twenties and I had seen the Himalayas and the Indian Ocean only in geography textbooks. How could Murakami cut the Himalayas to size or modify the temperature of the sea, I wondered. I was soon to discover that Murakami’s only tool was a computer named IBM 1620.

The IBM 1620 occupied a whole room. It had an operator’s console with hundreds of flashing lights and switches. It had a memory of 32 K that was the size of a large cupboard. It was fed with cards that had been punched with appropriate code. Thousands of cards would be going into waste paper baskets by the end of each day. Six machines of the IBM 1620 series had been imported by the government of India, which in its wisdom and foresight had given one of them for meteorological research. In those days words like hardware and software had not been coined. We had Fortran programs and subroutines which we wrote ourselves. The internet did not exist, so there was no question of downloading anything.

Murakami’s monsoon model was conceptualized by him, designed by him, and written by him on paper. I had the privilege of converting his paperwork into what was executable on a computer. It was quickly evident that Murakami’s model, even when trimmed to its barest minimum was too large for the IBM 1620 to handle. So we began to hire computer time on the more powerful CDC 3600 at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai. I would carry boxfuls of cards to Mumbai, run the programs there and bring back the results to show them to Murakami. Sometimes he would be thrilled to see them, sometimes disappointed.

On an occasion that I still remember, Murakami had given me a hundred pages of code in his own handwriting and had asked me to get them punched on cards. I completed that job with a speed that Murakami had perhaps not been expecting. He was skeptical that I had not done a thorough check. I felt unhappy with his remark and retorted that there were no errors on my part, but that his mistakes if any have been copied faithfully by me. Murakami was visibly offended. He tried his best to find out errors in my work, but he could discover none. He called me later and expressed his appreciation.

When Murakami arrived at ITM, so many people flocked around him. They saw in him an opportunity to do great research. But Murakami was not only a great scientist, he was also a strict taskmaster. He expected a lot from his co-workers, and his expectations were difficult to meet. I was one person who remained attached to Murakami until it was time for him to leave ITM.

Murakami’s work was truly pioneering. He simulated a near-steady state monsoon in a zonally symmetric framework along the longitude 80º E in the month of July. He designed a primitive equation model with a -system in which the atmosphere was divided into 8 layers. The top of the frictional boundary layer was taken as level 8½. In the horizontal only y-variation was considered, with 18 grid points at 5º latitude interval. In the x-direction, symmetry was assumed. Radiation heating and cooling was computed using the distribution of absorbing gases and clouds for the month of July. During the iterations, whenever the vertical lapse rate of temperature exceeded the wet (dry) adiabatic value with saturated conditions, it was adjusted to the wet (dry) adiabatic value by a redistribution of static energy. SST was kept at a constant value of 300ºK, while the land surface temperature was computed from the heat balance of the surface fluxes. The model was run with a calm initial state and the initial vertical distribution of temperature was prescribed as per the standard atmosphere. The model was run with a 10-minute time step for 80 days and experiments were repeated without the Himalayan orography. Murakami was successful in simulating some of the large scale features of the monsoon circulation and the wind speeds were of the same order as those in climatological normals. The result of particular importance was that when the Himalayan mountains were removed from the orographic profile along the longitude 80º E, the zonal circulation became much weaker, with lower level westerly winds of 10 knots and upper level easterly winds of 20 knots only. This showed that a realistic parameterization of the Himalayan mountains is crucial to the numerical simulation of the monsoon.

Presently the term “monsoon model” has become a household word in India. But the monsoon model that Murakami designed and ran successfully five decades ago, was something way ahead of his time!

It is ironical that such fundamental and invaluable work never got published in a journal and it remains confined to the pages of a conference proceedings volume.*

I learnt a lot of meteorology from Murakami. But on a personal level, I got to learn much more from his way of life: values like honesty, dedication, foresight, which are becoming increasingly difficult to find in today’s world. I know that my own contribution to Murakami’s work was minimal, but he was gracious enough to include my name as his co-author. That was Takio!

- R R Kelkar
*Murakami T., Godbole R. V. and Kelkar R. R., 1970, “Numerical simulation of the monsoon along 80° E”, Proc. Conf. Summer Monsoon of Southeast Asia, Norfolk, Va, USA, [Ed: Ramage C. S.], 39-51.

Biographical note:

Prof. Takio Murakami commenced his career as a weather forecaster at Japan Meteorological Agency in the 1950s. He then devoted himself to research in tropical meteorology and monsoon dynamics. In 1960 he went to MIT as a visiting researcher for four years. After returning to Japan, he visited Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology, Pune, in 1968 as an expert of WMO and personally experienced the Indian monsoon. In 1969 he joined the Department of Meteorology, University of Hawaii at Manoa. He made a pivotal contribution to the planning and implementation of both the summer and winter MONEX experiments conducted in 1978-79. He hosted a number of young researchers from Japan, China, and many other monsoon countries. He officially retired from the University of Hawaii in 1990 and became a professor emeritus. He passed away in 2013 at the age of 92.


Mystery of the Monsoon


Prof R R Kelkar wrote an article on the mystery of the monsoon in the Marathi newspaper Sakal on 15 June 2014. Click on the link below to read a pdf version of the text.

Ranjan Kelkar Monsoonche Rahasya

Media’s Monsoon


media monsoon

Every year India has a date with the monsoon. The date is always 1 June, but the monsoon usually comes either earlier or later. This year it came on 6 June. Soon after IMD made the official announcement, PTI reported that “four days after missing its date with the country, the crucial south west monsoon has finally hit Kerala.” The onset of the monsoon was perhaps a hit-or-miss affair!

The India Today web site was charting the future course of the monsoon with great confidence. It said, “Monsoon arrives in Kerala, find out when it is reaching you.” It seemed to know the inner workings of the monsoon system more than anyone else!

Livemint.com held a negative view. It said that the progress northwards is expected to be slow and monsoon is unlikely to cover half the nation by the first half of June. Like the glass which can be half full or half empty!

The Wall Street Journal announced that the Monsoon had arrived over the Indian “mainland”, a word more familiar to Americans. It also quoted the Director General of IMD as saying that “the monsoon has finally arrived but it is currently moving at a slow pace as the parameters that support its progress are either weaker than their normal positions or not properly placed.” Whatever that may mean, WSJ hastened to add that “a weak monsoon could push up food prices and with it inflation, testing the new government’s ability to promote economic growth.”

The Hindu had mixed its metaphors quite thoroughly, reporting earlier in the day that the monsoon was about to make “landfall any time now”. Its special correspondent also added that the monsoon was “sailing in on weak tailwinds.” Is it a cyclone? Is it a plane? Is it a ship?

I had never imagined that the monsoon could be so vicious, but the Hindu also said that “the Andaman territory had come under the spell of the monsoon”.

The Free Press Journal, Mumbai, had a different story. “Monsoon set to catch up with city on June 10”, it announced. As if the city of Mumbai was moving northwards and the monsoon was racing it out with all speed.

And there was a man-made storm as well! On 4 June, Economic Times reported that “a storm is brewing over the onset of monsoon”! Not over the ocean as one may think, but with private forecaster Skymet declaring that it had spotted the monsoon and IMD maintaining that it had not!

The last word, however, was that of a Marathi news channel. It said that the Bay of Bengal had held the monsoon captive all these days, but finally the monsoon had managed to escape from its grip!

The Monsoon is Coming…!


The Monsoon is Coming

It’s one thing to predict the onset of the monsoon. Quite another to actually see it coming!

R R Kelkar, Cherrapunji, June 2013 (Picture courtesy Sturla Gunnarsson)

Widespread Hail Damage over Maharashtra, India


Many parts of the state of Maharashtra in India were battered by violent hailstorms during late February and early March 2014. Extensive damage to standing crops has been reported. Prof R R Kelkar participated in a TV discussion on this subject on the Marathi channel “ABP Majha” on 4 March 2014. The video recording is available on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IQo6l3BAsi8

Filmy Weather (24): “A Rainy Day” or a Day of Reckoning



“A Rainy Day” is a Marathi film with an English title. I was curious to know what it was about; so I went to see it first-day-first-show.   

Aniket (Subodh Bhave) is a successful man, and Mugdha (Mrinal Kulkarni) is the woman behind him. However, Aniket is not only successful; he is ambitious, corrupt and ruthless. Mugdha is honest and has her own set of values to live by. The film is basically about of Mugdha’s sruggle with herself. It is on a rainy day that things which were supposed to be secret get revealed one by one in a bizarre way, but at the end she finds liberation.

“A Rainy Day” had to have rain and a lot of it too. But for once, the rain felt real and authentic. The sound was particularly real. One could hear thunder as if it came from outside the theatre. And one could feel and hear the rain as if it was raining inside the theatre. The skies looked really grey. One could imagine being in the driver’s seat, the windshield wipers working hard, and yet unable to see much beyond. And one tried to light a candle on the grave while it poured incessantly. And one was really walking slowly in the rain without an umbrella. The entire film was rain-soaked as every important event was accompanied by rain of appropriate intensity.

“A Rainy Day” surely makes you think about many things. Like why do you wait for the monsoon eagerly every year? For meeting your needs of drinking water, for raising crops, of course. But after watching “A Rainy Day” you feel that you need the monsoon for an annual cleansing of the sins of the body, soul and spirit.     


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