Monsoon: Advent, Onset and Declaration

ADVENT: On 8 June 2016, IMD’s announcement of the coming of the monsoon over Kerala had set off celebrations not only in that state, but even in distant Maharashtra which had been reeling under two subsequent droughts. When I heard the media saying that the news had brought hope and cheer to millions of Indians, I was somehow reminded of Christmas, the festival that brings hope and cheer to all humanity.

Christmas is celebrated every year on 25 December. The date does not change, so it does not have to be announced as in the case of Good Friday and Easter.  While Christmas is fast becoming a secular festivity, it is only Christians who also celebrate what is known as the Advent Season, prior to Christmas. This four-week period is a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the actual event which is the birth of the Lord.   

While thinking about Advent in times of the monsoon, I felt that there was a need to introduce “advent” into our monsoon terminology. The monsoon is known to arrive every year without fail. It comes to Kerala around 1 June, or within a week before or after it, though exceptions have been there. The month of May could be considered like an advent for the monsoon, preceding its onset. It should be a time of expectant waiting and preparation, for watching the unfolding and build-up of events in the global atmosphere and oceans. The knowledge could be shared and discussed. It need not be shrouded in secrecy. It should not be used for speculation or one-up-manship. The advent of the monsoon could even be used as a time of prayer, by those who believe in its power.    

ONSET: Meteorologists have always had a definition of the onset of the monsoon. When only raingauges were available, they had a definition based on rainfall. As higher technology became available, the definition was suitably enlarged to include other parameters. The definition may even be modified again in future. But is there is a need for such a fuss about the onset? As the media hype grows and technology improves, the onset may not have just a date but even a time in the 24-hour clock, like an eye of a cyclone making landfall. But does it all matter? To whom does a day make a difference?

The monsoon has a four-month journey. If it begins well, that is good. Well begun is half done. But only half. The other half is not guaranteed. Monsoon forecasting is getting better and better with every passing year. But in a philosophical sense, knowing the future is not given to man. Most scientists do not make predictions. It is only meteorologists, economists and astrologers who make predictions and meteorologists are perhaps the most daring of all. They can predict the weather and climate from the next 10 minutes to the next 100 years. It seems that all they need is money. But as we know, money cannot buy everything.  

DECLARATION: Continuing with the Christmas analogy, the birth of Jesus had been foretold by the prophets many centuries before. The three wise men had known about it from a new star in the sky. But for the actual declaration of the birth of the Saviour, angels had to come down to earth from heaven.

A declaration is something solemn. A person making a declaration binds himself to it. The American Declaration of Independence is a piece of literature. In the Bible, God had a long discourse with a man named Job that began with this challenge, “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if you have the understanding!” David in his Psalm 19, says, “The heavens declare the glory of God!” In today’s world, sportspersons may assemble in huge numbers in an Olympic stadium, but they cannot start playing unless an authority of the host country announces, “I declare the games open!”.

Coming back to the monsoon, on 8 June 2016, the day IMD announced the onset of monsoon over Kerala, Jatin Singh, CEO of Skymet, the private weather forecasting company, wrote on his home page: “G for Government, G for God… It might rain, it might not… When IMD says its Monsoon, and when Skymet says it’s not…” : (

Anyone can say, “I think this is the monsoon!” Anyone can point out, “Look, the monsoon is there!”, Anyone can shout, “The monsoon is coming! The monsoon is coming!” But they have no authority to declare it. Only the India Meteorological Department can do so as per its constitutional authority.