Nothing but the rain

June 7th, 20105:04 pm @

Waiting to hear the rain in Delhi.

Everyone’s watching the skies at the moment. Down in the south of the country the southwest monsoon is already doing its thing; soaking the ground and cooling things off, a bit.

The progress of the monsoon – which makes landfall around the start of June each year in Kerala – is followed keenly by almost everyone, from car makers to silver traders. Since more than half of India is employed by the agriculture sector in one was or another, and because more than half the country’s farmland is rain-fed, the monsoon is a big deal.

When the rains are poor, as they were last year, crops fail. When crops fail, the price of food goes up, which feeds into inflation and has policy implications for the government and the central bank. Failed crops also mean less money for farmers, which means lower sales for car makers – who sell a lot of motorbikes and scooters to farmers in good years – and even affects the price of precious metals such as silver: some 60 per cent of silver sales go to rural families.

It’s why there are daily stories about the progress of the monsoon. Any potential halts – such as cyclones in the Bay of Bengal or the Arabian Sea – are analysed and dissected. Daily average rainfall is measured and compared to last year’s numbers like the annual profits of a multinational.

In Delhi, we’ve been watching the progress of the monsoon hoping for a little relief from the heat wave that’s been taking over the city for the past month or so. Last week the capital recorded its highest minimum June temperature in more than 40 years – 34.7 degrees Celsius (that’s 94.46 in old money). Saturday night started with a dust storm, which was washed away by a brief, but welcome, thunderstorm – a pre-monsoon tease.

Ironically, it’s the heat across the north of the country that encourages the monsoon’s progress. All that rising air leaves a gap to be filled by moist air coming in off the Indian Ocean.

The monsoon rains aren’t due in Delhi until the end of June at the earliest, but we’re still watching those daily forecasts like the progress of a cyclist in the Tour de France.

Once the rains do come, they come spectacularly – flooding roads and causing traffic chaos that turns a 40-minute commute into something closer to four hours.

That, however, is a problem for another day.

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