Distribution of rainfall in India

Distribution of rainfall in India

India has a monsoon type of climate. Rainfall occurs only for about three to four months and is uneven, unreliable and erratic in nature. Rainy season in India extends from June to mid- September. Sometimes at the time of arrival, the rainfall pours heavily which is commonly known as the burst of the monsoons. The monsoon first arrives at the southern tip of the subcontinent. It then gets separated into two branches; the Arabian Sea branch and the Bay of Bengal branch. The rains from the Arabian Sea strikes Mumbai on approximately June 10, while the Bay of Bengal branch brings rainfall to Assam. Because the mountains in the northeast causes the rain bearing winds to drift to the Indo-Gangetic plains, the region experiences rainfall by late June and early July. The rainfall reaches Himachal Pradesh by mid July.  While it rains heavily in north eastern parts of the country, Kerala and on the western slopes of the Western Ghats, moderate rainfall is experienced in the south eastern parts of the country and the Indo Gangetic Plains. Scanty rainfall is experienced in western parts of Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana and Gujarat.

The southwest monsoon splits into two branches, the Arabian Sea Branch and the Bay of Bengal Branch near the southernmost end of the Indian Peninsula. Hence, it arrives in India in two branches: the Bay of Bengal branch and the Arabian Sea 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. The latter extends toward a low-pressure area over the Thar Desert and is roughly three times stronger than the Bay of Bengal branch.

  • The monsoon winds originating over the Arabian Sea further split into three branches: One branch is obstructed by the Western Ghats. These winds climb the slopes of the Western Ghats and as a result of orographic rainfall phenomenon, the windward side of Ghats receives 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 winds. 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.
  • A third branch of this monsoon wind strikes the Saurashtra Peninsula and the Kutch. It then passes over west Rajasthan and along the Aravallis, causing only a scanty rainfall. In Punjab and Haryana, it too joins the Bay of Bengal branch. These two branches, reinforced by each other, cause rains in the western Himalayas.
  • 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.

Frequency of tropical depressions originating over the Bay of Bengal varies from year to year. The path of these depressions also keeps changing with the position of the ITCZ, also known as monsoon trough (Figure – position of Inter-tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) in the month of January and July). As the axis of the monsoon trough oscillates with the apparent movement of sun between Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn, there are fluctuations in the track and direction of these depressions, and the intensity and the amount of rainfall vary from year to year. The amount of rainfall in north India varies with the frequency of the tropical depressions. On an average, one to three depressions are observed every month and the life span of one depression is about one week.

The rain which comes in spells, displays a declining trend from west to east over the west coast, and from the southeast towards the northwest over the North Indian Plain and the northern part of the Peninsula. Rajasthan desert receives low rainfall in spite of being in the path of Arabian Sea branch of monsoon. This branch blows parallel to Aravalis mountain chain without obstruction and thus, does not release moisture here.


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